In 1939, E. Carl Kiekhaefer purchased a defunct engine manufacturing plant in Cedarburg, Wis., not far from the Kiekhaefer family farm. Included in the plant assets were 300 outboard engines that had been rejected by a large mail-order retailer due to defects and operating problems. Kiekhaefer hoped to transform the engines into capital needed for the future business he envisioned - magnetic separators for the dairy industry. Instead of selling the engines for scrap, Kiekhaefer decided to make the most of them.
The rejected boat engines were Thor outboards, named after Thorwald Hansen, founder of the original engine company. The name was supposed to evoke images of Thor, the "God of Thunder," but the poorly designed engines more often evoked images of boats without power.
On Feb. 8, 1939, two weeks after assuming control of the bankrupt manufacturing plant, Kiekhaefer sketched a rendering of the improved engine and sent it to the retailer. He and his team initially focused on redesigning the engines into outboards that Kiekhaefer's first brochure described as "A motor heavy enough to drive your boat, regardless of wind, weeds, waves, and weight."
Kiekhaefer and his team replaced the original low-quality crankshafts with a forged version from the retailer's largest rival. The Thor engines were then sold under a different, trusted brand name, securing the order for Kiekhaefer and providing his entry into the outboard motor business. In April of 1939, Kiekhaefer introduced a new line of Thor outboard engines at the Milwaukee Sentinel Sportsman's Show.
E. Carl Kiekhaefer
An unwavering commitment to quality is a Mercury Marine hallmark, and that characteristic has direct roots to its founder, E. Carl Kiekhaefer.
Born June 4, 1906, in Mequon, Wis., Kiekhaefer was always attracted to machines and had a drive to understand how things worked. After leaving his family’s farm to pursue a career in electrical engineering and manufacturing he attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering for one year. Later, he continued his education at the University of Wisconsin extension. Despite not receiving a formal degree until later in life, Carl became an electrical engineer and changed the standards for marine engines.
He began his career as a draftsman at Nash Motors in Milwaukee. However, he soon became discontented drawing blueprints and his natural curiosity to understand machines led to his termination. His next stop was Evinrude Motors, also in Milwaukee, where he lasted just three months. He then landed a position at Stearn Magnetic, where he remained for 11 years before founding the company that would become Mercury Marine.
Carl Kiekhaefer was always known for unrelenting high standards for products he produced and the people who worked with him. His legacy lives on today in the communities in which Mercury Marine operates and the products that continue to set standards of excellence in the marine industry.