By the 1980s, snowmobiles had become an indispensable feature of winter life in northern climates. Not only were they an efficient way of getting people outside during cold days but their use also brought economic activity and new sports opportunities to rural towns and helped fuel an expansion in outdoor sports participation.
But only after years of tinkering and innovation was the modern snowmobile finally created.
Joseph-Armand Bombardier had no idea when he first put out his snowmobile onto the streets of Valcourt, Quebec in 1922 that it would revolutionize winter recreation and become one of Canada’s favourite pastimes. Bombardier had long experimented with motorized vehicles; at age 13, he built his first powered toy train; later that same year, he constructed two wheels and watch mechanism into a non-working cannon; however it wasn’t until his two year old son, Yvon died from appendicitis due to heavy snow that propelled him forward and led him on an endeavour designed specifically to drive over it all while keeping people moving throughout rural areas.
Many tinkerers had attempted to adapt regular motorized vehicles for use on snow, yet their early designs proved hazardous and insufficiently stable. Some even utilized propellers as means of reaching enjoyable speeds while putting riders and anyone nearby at serious risk.
Bombardier began his snowmobile experimentation in his garage during the 1920s, modifying automobiles and other motorized vehicles so they were easier to maneuver on snowy surfaces. Meanwhile, he attended night classes to gain additional knowledge in mechanics and electricity. By 24, Bombardier had opened his own shop in Valcourt and begun manufacturing snowmobiles.
The Bombardier B7 snowmobile was the first commercially successful snowmobile ever produced and ran on caterpillar tracks similar to tank treads for quick movement and passenger transport. Bombardier patented his mechanical system in 1937 and his snowmobiles quickly became essential transportation tools for families, doctors, ambulance drivers, priests and others living in rural parts of Quebec Province.
Snowmobiling revolutionized northern winters, enabling people to travel through heavy snow faster and more effortlessly than ever. Engine-powered oversnow vehicles made it possible to access hunting grounds and villages that would have otherwise been inaccessible by foot, visit friends, taverns, and even fish distant ponds. These new forms of mobility also transformed snowmobiling from a simple utility into an entertaining recreational activity enjoyed by many. Unfortunately, however, not everything was simple fun; snowmobiling had serious repercussions for people using these machines to explore parts of winter they hadn’t visited before; this was particularly evident at Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks where 1960s snowmobiling caused tension between park rangers, nature contemplators, and recreationalists.
Carl Eliason is widely recognized as having created the original snowmobile prototype during the 1920s. Using a two-cylinder motorcycle engine attached to a long sled, Carl used this invention to “float on snow and move forward using an endless track, producing what would eventually become our beloved modern snowmobiles.
Eliason moved from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Sayner-Star Lake, Wisconsin in 1924 due to physical restrictions and developed a machine to allow him to keep pace with his friends in northern Wisconsin’s deep snows – eventually patenting his invention in 1927.
Bombardier’s propeller-driven sled was the precursor of today’s snowmobiles; however, Carl Eliason’s sprocket wheel and track system is what truly made them practical.
For an original Eliason snowmobile, visit Vilas County Historical Museum in Sayner and look for Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox outside. Alternatively, there’s the Naubinway Snowmobile Museum which opened July 4, 2006. Housed within an old laundromat building is this permanent exhibit featuring some of the more spectacular models than can be found at car showrooms.
Snowmobiling has quickly become a beloved winter activity and recreational pastime, giving outdoor enthusiasts something fun to do during those coldest winter months. Additionally, it has also brought economic revitalization to many rural towns; but with this come some conflict between snowmobilers and land owners as the noise from these vehicles disrupts peace and tranquility as well as potential property damage.
Modern snowmobiles are the result of several innovations developed over a decade. Joseph-Armand Bombardier of Quebec developed a propeller-driven sled in 1922; Carl Eliason from Wisconsin created and patented a motor toboggan. Bombardier introduced his sprocket wheel and track system as the first practical solution.
Adolphe Kegresse moved to Russia in 1905 to work at Tsar Nicholas II’s imperial car garage and developed his first invention – the Kegresse track system – designed for driving over deep snow with motor cars belonging to Tsar. Following the Russian Revolution, Adolphe relocated back to France where he soon met Andre Citroen (Europe’s Henry Ford). From 1919, Adolphe began designing half tracks for Citroen company vehicles.
After World War I, Kegresse tracks were modified to run on front wheels of Citroen automobiles and called snowmobiles. By 1913, Ford dealer Virgil White of West Ossipee, New Hampshire created what many consider the first true snowmobile; his creation consisted of replacing one rear axle of his Model T with an axle with tracks instead of wheels and attaching large wooden skis on both axles – considered by some to be its precursor.
After several years of further development, the snowmobile finally became reliable and user-friendly vehicle. By the late 1960s, more than 200,000 snowmobiles had been sold across North America – this growth spurt largely attributable to more powerful two-stroke engines being made available for mass consumption.
During the Ice Age, people had to travel long distances in search of food and farm work. Sometimes this meant crossing snowy miles en route; hence the need for an efficient vehicle that could travel over them. Joseph-Armand Bombardier came up with the concept for creating snowmobiles, working closely with his garage mechanic friend Edgar Hetteen on developing prototypes together – it became so successful that the Snowmobile Hall of Fame recognized him as “The Father of Modern Snowmobiling.”
Hetteen Hoist and Derrick was established in Roseau, Minnesota by Hetteen and some other employees as an industry manufacturing snowmobiles and other vehicles; as well as offering snowmobile parts and accessories. Because Hetteen was an avid hunter/trapper himself, their primary aim was creating something which allowed them to traverse snowy regions more easily for hunting or trapping activities.
By the 1960s, the company had outgrown its founders’ management abilities and needed additional skills in order to remain competitive with rival manufacturers. Textron purchased it and continued manufacturing in Roseau while also hiring Fuji engineers exclusively to design an engine specifically for Polaris snowmobiles.
Polaris quickly expanded and continued innovating, producing groundbreaking technologies like electronic fuel injection and long-travel rear suspension. Unfortunately, low snow winters wreaked havoc on the industry and sales decreased drastically – many companies closed or sold off their snowmobile divisions to other firms; but Polaris President W. Hall Wendel had faith in his industry and led a leverage buyout of his company.
Polaris Snowmobiles has quickly become one of the largest snowmobile companies worldwide. Boasting an extensive product offering and innovative designs that have cemented snowmobiling’s iconic status in American culture, Polaris continues to set standards in performance, innovation, quality and innovation within powersports industry. Their legacy stands as testament to hardworking creative people who founded this iconic American sport; thus inspiring future generations through perseverance experimentation ingenuity that lives on in their history of snowmobiling.