Put a passion for engines and a small workshop. Combine that with a bit of flair and great ambition, and you have a legend like Mercury Marine, which celebrates its first 80 years in 2019. Like the best American movies, the story of Mercury Marine begins in a small Wisconsin garage when, in 1939, E. Carl Kiekhaefer purchased a decommissioned engine manufacturing plant in Cedarburg, not far from the family farm.
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Mercury Marine, the story
Assets in the warehouse included 300 outboard motors that were rejected by a large retailer due to defects and operational problems. Kiekhaefer hoped to turn the motors into capital needed for the future business he envisioned: magnetic separators for the dairy industry. Instead of selling the engines as scrap, Kiekhaefer decides to make the most of them. So he and his team within weeks of settling in sketched out a rendering of the improved engines in every part and sent it back to the vendor who had rejected them who instead confirmed the order.
Mr. Kiekhaefer’s first line of outboard motors was born: they were called Thor and were first displayed at the Milwaukee Sentinel Sportsman’s Show. Success was immediate, and so Carl Kiekhaefer began a new business: ambitious, meticulous, and clear-minded, he wanted to build the world’s most powerful and durable marine engines.
In 1940 it showed up at the New York Motor Boat Show with five more new models with innovations that immediately made their mark, and within a year it managed to deliver as many as 3,000 engines. Before long, however, the war caused him to change production lines, turning him into one of the U.S. military’s main chainsaw suppliers and making him work on making a drone engine. When the war ended, marine engine production resumed, deciding that a suitable “secret” space for testing thrusters was essential.
In 1957 he found Lake Conlin, away from prying eyes. a place that soon became legendary and was later nicknamed “Lake X.” It was here that the legendary Operation Atlas took place, an endurance test for Mercury engines desired by its founder to prove their reliability. Two boats powered by a Mark 75, the first 60-hp 6-cylinder outboard engine, completed, after 34 days, 11 hours, 47 minutes and 5 seconds 4,526 laps of the lake: a total of 25,000 miles.
Mercury Marine: beyond marine engines
After countless successes, Mercury Marine is now a benchmark in the world of engines: marine and beyond. In the 1950s it also debuted in the world of motor racing. participating in the NASCAR circuit aboard Chyrsler cars, and here, too, he made history. He still holds the record of 60 percent wins in a season. Mercury Marine thus becomes one of the most desirable U.S. companies, and quite a few groups come forward for its acquisition. In 1961 Brunswick Corporation became the owner of the brand, bringing it to its present status as the benchmark for the marine outboard engine market.
There are also countless innovations in the company’s history: one of Mercury Marine’s first technological advances came in 1947, when it introduced ball, roller and needle roller anti-friction bearings in all major bearing housings, improving reliability and efficiency. A year later, he introduced the first inline four-cylinder outboard, the Mercury Thunderbolt, ushering in the modern era of outboard engines. But not only that; also the first 100-hp outboard in 1962, the first V-6 in 1976, and the first fuel-injected inboard to produce more than 1000 hp (the HP1075 SCi) in 2004. Today, Mercury Marine is a 360-degree supplier of every component for motorization, adding on-board electronics, propellers and airboats as well.