period between the 1890ís and the 1920ís was an exciting time. During
this relatively short period of time the country saw remarkable
technological advances in communication and transportation. The
telephone kept us connected, the radio kept us informed, and we went
from a horse drawn society to a motorized one, all in the span of thirty
Marine transportation was no exception: motorized
pleasure boats were seen in all the major waterways. However, unlike the
automobile, which became a near necessity, the pleasure boats with
inboard engines were an expensive luxury. The average fisherman, or
weekend boater, had a small rowboat and propelled it with a pair of
oars. This did not go unnoticed. As far back as the 1880ís individuals
were experimenting with portable electric and gas engines that could be
adapted to the rowboat. In this country, the "Salisbury-Allen" electric
motor appears to be the first outboard motor put into actual production.
It was followed closely by the gas powered "American." But it wasnít
until 1906, when Cameron B. Waterman of Detroit, Michigan introduced the
Waterman "Porto" that the industry really took off. By 1910, Waterman
claimed to have sold 4000 motors, and in that same year, Evinrude
entered the market and the race was on.
This book is about these motors and the motors that
followed. The term "Rowboat Motor" describes those motors manufactured
before the mid 1920ís. These motors were generally one cylinder, made of
cast iron and brass, and were started by turning the flywheel, either by
hand, or with the help of a knob positioned on the edge of the wheel.
There were over 40 companies manufacturing these motors between 1895 and
the mid 1920ís. This may seem like a large number, especially
considering there are only a few companies manufacturing outboards
today, but this was a small number compared to the automobile industry.
During this same time frame there were several hundred automobile
manufacturers. As in the outboard industry, only a few of these would
In 1921, The Johnson Motor Co. of South Bend, Indiana
introduced a two cylinder outboard that produced 2 horse power and
weighed only 33 pounds. The motor was started with a rope wrapped around
a pulley that was attached to the top of the fly wheel. The motor was
light weight and reliable. Soon other manufacturers would follow suit
and the heavy, awkward, rowboat motors would become a thing of the past.
Rowboat motors, a least in my eyes, are things of real beauty. Unlike
their cousins, the stationary farm engines and other utilitarian motors
whose only job is to spin a pulley, rowboat motors were designed to
propel and steer a boat through the water. This required the addition of
gracefully curved brass propellers and artistically designed rudders and
gear housings; all polished to better slide through the water, or
perhaps catch the eye of a potential buyer.