“Bottom of the Lake” tops the list
At the end of World War II, Carl Kiekhaefer was running out of options on multiple fronts.
His plant in Cedarburg, Wis., was jammed full of military drone engines and chainsaws, and he had government contracts remaining to be filled. But he desperately wanted to resume building Mercury Outboards, halted in 1941 due to war-time material limitations. His competitors were already producing “civilian” engines; when restrictions on aluminum use were lifted, Western Auto Supply doubled its existing outboard order to 33,000 units. Kiekhaefer needed more room.
Kiekhaefer had a demanding list of criteria for a new location, including existing buildings, land to grow and a community that could supply a good workforce and would work with him to attract his growing business and payroll. His trek to a dozen Wisconsin cities took him as close as Beaver Dam to the west and as far as Wausau to the north.
He found the unique combination of qualities just 40 miles northwest of Cedarburg. The Fond du Lac Industrial Development Corporation offered Kiekhaefer 38 acres in a new industrial park — the former Corium Dairy Farm — at the attractive price of $25,000. Included on the property was a five-story barn that was 300 feet long and 50 feet wide and featured 11 giant ventilators, four towering grain silos and was filled with 90 tons of hay.
On February 1, 1946, a crew of 130 men began stripping the barn of its stanchions and stalls, with Kiekhaefer himself helping to pitch hay from the loft into a baler for sale to local farmers. A new concrete floor was poured. A machine shop and tool crib was planned for one end of the barn, but the bulk of the space was left open for assembly operations. The silos were turned into paint booths and engine test cells, while the loft was converted to office space.
Due to continuing shortages of aluminum, the only engine built that year was the two- cylinder Rocket. However, between the engines labeled Mercury and those for Western Auto, nearly $1.5 million worth of outboards was shipped by the end of September.
The company was back in the outboard business, and the Mercury legend in Fond du Lac had been born.