Mercury's 25th Anniversary saw major expansion
Historical anniversaries are generally commemorated with festivities. But in the case of Mercury Marine’s 25th Anniversary, the event began with a fight on many fronts.
In 1964, as Mercury celebrated 25 years in marine propulsion, it was mired in a fierce competitive battle with Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC). Mercury had recently lost two of its top executives — including one to OMC — and company president Carl Kiekhaefer felt it was time to send a message of strength.
Through often contentious negotiations he convinced his bosses at Brunswick Corporation, which was experiencing a downturn in its bowling and other businesses, to authorize a major expansion, including construction of a 180,000-square-foot distribution center and an assembly building twice that size on the company’s Fond du Lac campus.
But it didn’t end there. The initial $4.5 million investment, part of a $10 million expansion program, still required zoning and annexation variances, which were delayed by opposition within the local government.
What followed was a major lobbying effort by local businesses and residents alike to move the proposed project forward. As a major employer and purchaser in the area, the company affected many lives, and an annexation agreement was eventually reached. The headline of the April 24, 1964, Commonwealth Reporter read: “Kiekhaefer will build plant.”
The groundbreaking was held in typical Kiekhaefer style. He personally took the controls of a $65,000 earthmover purchased for the occasion, and then led a parade of trailered boats featuring MerCruiser sterndrives and Mercury outboards.
The “mile-long” assembly facility has since gained a status of its own and serves as a landmark for travelers passing by on U.S. Highway 41.
More than 1.5 million square feet of space were constructed over the next four years, adding production, engineering, sales and warehouse space in Fond du Lac, Cedarburg, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Fifty years later, as Mercury Marine commemorates its diamond anniversary, the company is again in the midst of a multi-million dollar expansion program.