MERCURY MARINE OPENS MUSEUM
Grand Opening Kicks Off 75th Anniversary Celebration
By Charles “Pluedy” Plueddeman
Sled-heads will find the #5 1975 PDC Mercury Sno-Twister is the center of attention in the new Mercury Marine Museum, but I reckon that if you are into snowmobiles you will also dig the outboards and the race boat and giant chain saw, too. This year is the 75th anniversary of the founding of Kiekhaefer Mercury, and while the company is not hosting a Harley-esque blow-out, this 5,000-square -foot space, which opened on April 3, offers a great display of artifacts from it’s well-stocked archives.
The Mercury legend goes like this: When he heard in 1938 that the Cedarburg Manufacturing Company plant in his home town of Cedarburg, Wis., was about to close, it seemed like a good oppertunity to E.C. Carl Kiekhaufer. Raised on a local farm and now a young electrical engineer, Kiekhaefer planned to buy the building and start his own business manufacturing magnetic separators for the dairy industry. He later discovered about 300 Thor outboard motors had been left behind in their crates. Introduced in 1935 Cedarburg Manufacturing, the Thor motors were a low cost design and the outboards left in the plant had the Sea King brand, as they were built under a contract with Montgomery Ward. The motors ran poorly, however, and Ward cancelled the contract.
Kiekhaefer planned to sell the motors for scrap, but one day he revised the carburetor on a single Sea King and discovered that thus modified, the motor ran well. Ward was persuaded to take the modified inventory, and Kiekhaefer was happy to pocket some cash for his business start-up. But soon the mail-order retailer was on the phone, requesting more outboards. The first batch sold out quickly. The old Thor tooling was still in the plant, and Kiekhaefer and his crew fired up the assembly line. Kiekhaefer made a few updates to the design, and printed a brochure offering three Thor models from a 6.2-hp triple to a 2.4-hp kicker. Meanwhile Kiekhaefer and his engineers were busy designing an all new outboard, and the first Mercury motors debuted at the 1940 New York Boat Show. Two 3-hp singles and a 6-hp twin were offered. Kiekhaefer left with 16,000 orders.
The rest is history. I could go on and on, but just go to the museum. Did you know, for example, that Carl Kiekhaefer owned a car racing team that dominated Nascar with its booming Chrysler 300s in the mid-1950s? That Mercury Marine assembled the engines for the Corvette ZR-1? That Carl used to prowl the Mercury campus on a moped?
Of course you do know that if you were not racing a Sno-Twister in D stock in 1974 you should have saved gas and stayed home. There’s a nice video that tells the Sno-Twister story and the Doug Hayes factory sled that was until recently on display at the Snowmobile Hall Of Fame in St. Germain, Wis. is there too. Mercury fans may be wondering if there will be a 75th anniversary event to attend this summer, maybe with a snowmobile show. Well… Merc tells me there are no plans to host a parade or a big party or public event. However, the idea has been floated thet perhaps a vintage show of some sort could take place on the company property in the fall. So stay tuned.
The Mercury Marine Museum is located in the Fond du Lac Children’s Museum, 75 w. Scott St., Fond du Lac, Wis. Admission is $1, and all proceeds will go to charity. The museum is open Wednesday and Thursday 9-5; Friday 9-7; and Saturday and Sunday 10-4.
To see lots of cool Mercury history, visit the Mercury Marine 75th anniversary site at http://www.mercurymarine.com/75years/ where the pages are updated regularly.
Charles Plueddeman is a contributor to Boating magazine and Boats.com and adds Vintagesleds.com to his list.