Snowmobiles

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Winning Nomination

Allan and Edgar Hetteen and David Johnson of Roseau, Minnesota, designed and built the first snowmobile, and went on to create Polaris Industries. This company designed, manufactured, and shipped snowmobiles across the country and around the world to be used for work and recreation. The snowmobile has had an impact on society including the Minnesota tourism industry, farming, and ranching, assisting in search-and-rescue efforts around the world, and transporting residents of the Far North between their communities. It is amazing that an invention that has reached to the far corners of the world began in northern Minnesota in a little community of 2,500 people.
~Katherine Kath, Detroit Lakes, MN


Runner-up Nominations

Polaris Industry Founders The three men who founded Polaris Industries, brothers Alan and Edgar Hetteen, and David Johnson opened a whole new world of winter entertainment when they invented the snowmobile. The snowmobile has not only been entertaining but has assisted people in the northern regions of the US and Canada to travel in a more convient and safer way.
~Charleen Haugen, Roseau, MN

Edgar Hetteen Grandfather of snowmobiling Invented the snowmobile, Polaris snowmobiles, Arctic Cat snowmobiles, and ASV Track-Truck - skidsteers.
~Richard Will, Cohasset, MN

With Minnesota having a long and wonderful winter, the snowmobile enabled Minnesotans the ability to enjoy the great outdoors during the wintertime. Let it snow, let it snow, let it SNOW!!!
~Perry and Connie Marcus, Coon Rapids, MN

Edgar Hetteen Edgar is the founder of Polaris Industries and Arctic Cat. His development and marketing of the snowmobile in the early 1960s led to a revolution in how Minnesotans view winter. Instead of northern Minnesota becoming a morgue during the winter months, we now have tens of thousands of residents trailering to northern Minnesota to ride 1,000s of miles of marked and groomed trails. Snowmobiling contributes millions and millions of dollars to countless small businesses throughout the state. Of the hundreds of manufacturers that started in the business, only four are left, and two of those are major employers in northern Minnesota. Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls and Polaris in Roseau.

Today, snowmobiling stretches from the mountains of Idaho to the hills of Vermont, and throughout northern Europe as well. Edgar's efforts to promote snowmobiling as another way to experience the beauty of Minnesota in the winter is the stuff of legends.
~Steve Bethke, New Prague, MN

An invention that can go beyond recreation and actually cause shifts in many traditional northern cultures deserves to be on the big 150 list. Such is the case with the snowmobile.

There are disputes over the origins of this form of transportation--Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada claim to be where it was first invented in the 1920s. However, everyone agrees that the first modern machine was introduced by Minnesota-business Polaris.

The snowmobile is more than a recreational tool or a way to combine winter poker with driving from bar to bar. It can produce important cultural change. Several anthropological articles have demonstrated how the introduction of the snowmobile has meant major alterations in traditional groups such as the Sami herders.
~Steve Trimble, St. Paul, MN


Contents

History

Whoosh!

Although we think of them today as recreational vehicles, the first patent for a snowmobile was awarded to R. H. Muscott of Waters, Michigan, for a vehicle with rear tracks and front sleds used for rural mail delivery. For the next several decades, snowmobiles were used for work—to carry mail and schoolchildren, to move groups of people through snowy passages, and as ambulances.

In January 1956, David Johnson, Paul Knochenmus, and Orlen Johnson of Roseau, Minnesota, built the first Polaris Snow Cat, using a grain elevator conveyor belt for a track and pieces of a Chevy bumper for skis. With their Snow Cat, Polaris proved that it was possible to build a sturdy, reliable vehicle that could negotiate snowy fields and forests faster than cross-country skis. But it wasn't yet ready for production. Polaris founder Edgar Hetteen sold the first Snow Cat to a local lumberyard and used the proceeds to meet payroll for his company, which made farm equipment. Then he, his brother Allan, and brother-in-law David Johnson kept tinkering.

Meanwhile, in Valcourt, Quebec, an inventor named Joseph-Armand Bombardier was hard at work. He had introduced a large vehicle propelled by a caterpillar track in 1937. More than two decades later, in 1959, Bombardier introduced the vehicle that would earn him the title "Father of the Snowmobile." Called the Ski-Doo, it was a relatively lightweight, open-cab model that seated only one or two passengers.

In March 1960, Edgar Hetteen set out to prove that snowmobiles were more than just curiosities. Edgar and three others set out on three Polaris Sno-Travelers for a 1,200-mile trek across the Alaskan wilderness. The twenty-one-day trip was a success and changed popular opinions on winter travel. Within a few years, Polaris introduced the Colt and Mustang, small-profile snowmobiles designed for recreation. The company was a national leader in the recreational industry by the mid-1960s.

Allan Hetteen took over as president of Polaris later in 1960, when Edgar moved to Thief River Falls to found Arctic Cat. Together, Polaris and Arctic Cat revolutionized the sport of snowmobiling and helped seal Minnesota's reputation as a place where snow and cold are not just endured, but enjoyed.

Resource Links

Edgard Hetteen's Daring Journey

Snowmobile - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Polaris : Our Company : About Polaris : History and Heritage

Snowmobiles : Library : MNHS.ORG

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