“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.

OptiMax Pro XS: Where performance meets practicality

Mercury Marine’s OptiMax Pro XS outboard remains the engine of choice among serious, performance-minded anglers, combining speed, acceleration and improved fuel economy for enhanced performance and lower operating costs.

The OptiMax Pro XS line — available from 115hp to 250hp — is built with racing-designed components, such as carbon fiber reeds, solid billet aluminum mounts, and special dome-shaped coated pistons that are light and fast. The result? Anglers get to the fish faster, while using less fuel.

The OptiMax’s compact 2.5-liter engine block delivers the running characteristics expected of a powerful V6, but accomplishes that with a slim, lightweight design that includes more stainless steel and corrosion-resistant components than competitive brands.

The Pro XS outboards have earned their reputation as the fastest, most proven engines on the professional bass fishing circuit, having won more tournaments than all other brands combined. That’s only fitting for a company whose history has been built on technological innovation, performance and reliability.

Mary White (Mercury years: 1956 – 1998)

During her 42 years with Mercury Marine, Mary White held a variety of jobs. But to paraphrase the old song, she was the “soul of the company store.”

Following two years at the MerCruiser sterndrive plant in Stillwater, Okla., — after her late husband, Lee, a design engineer, was transferred there to help get that plant operational — White landed in human resources, accepting hand-written job applications at the company store, located outside plant 3 in Fond du Lac. White also selected, ordered, and sold everything from Mercury-branded apparel and accessories to other Brunswick Corporation products, such as bowling balls and fishing gear.

“Mercury was a most interesting place to work because it was ever- changing,” White said. “There was always a new challenge.”

She credits company training for learning new technologies, such as computers. White met Mercury employees and dealers from around the world, as visitors to the company headquarters always stopped by the employee-only company store. Today, boaters the world over can access Mercury gear at www.mercurydockstore.com.