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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Birth of the Snowmobile

Each winter people across the state zip-up their Ski-doo jackets, strap on their helmets, and rev up for a season of snowmobiling. We wonder how many of them know that the snowmobile was invented here in Wisconsin in 1924.

Slowed by an injured foot, Carl Eliason sought an alternative way to get around during the harsh winters up north. Amateur inventors had been rigging early "snow buggies" for years. Typically, these consisted of cars or bicycles attached to skis. Eliason's idea was to add skis, a boat engine, and other parts to a toboggan.

Dubbed the Eliason Motor Toboggan, his contraption caught on quickly. By 1939 demand was so high that Eliason partnered with the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company of Clintonville, Wis., to mass-produce the renamed snowmobiles. Orders came from as far away as Finland, and the United States Army ordered them.

Today Eliason's earliest snowmobiles can be seen on display at the marvelous Vilas County Historical Museum in his hometown of Sayner. The annual World Championship Snowmobile Day in Eagle River and The International Snowmobile Racing Hall of Fame in St. Germain are testaments to his great invention.

You can see his 1927 patent here, and learn more about the history of snowmobiles at the Eliason Co. Web site. Today's models are fancier than Eliason's first one, but snowmobilers around the world have him to thank for the fun they provide.

:: Posted in Curiosities on December 10, 2009

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