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Elto Cub Outboard Motor | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Elto Cub Outboard Motor

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Elto Cub Outboard Motor | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeElto Cub outboard motor

Elto Cub outboard motor, 1939

Source: Wisconsin Museum object #1997.35.3

EnlargePortrait of Ole Evinrude

Portrait of Ole Evinrude, late 1920s

Portrait of Ole Evinrude, probably taken in the late 1920s. View the original source document: WHI 36551


Diagram, 1939

Diagram from a 1939 Elto Cub Operators Manual. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum Accession file 1997.35

EnlargeJon N. Will demonstrates Elto Cub outboard motor

Jon N. Will demonstrates Elto Cub outboard motor, 1997

Jon N. Will demonstrates the small size of the Elto Cub outboard motor, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, 1997. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum accession file 1997.35

Elto Cub outboard motor manufactured by the Evinrude Motors Division of Outboard Marine and Manufacturing Co.,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1939.

(Museum object #1997.35.3)

Produced for only two years, the Elto Cub is an interesting sidelight to the venerable history of the Wisconsin outboard motor industry. Weighing only 8.5 pounds, this horse power motor was advertised as the "world's lightest outboard" when introduced in 1939. Though the industry trend throughout the 1920s and 1930s was towards ever larger, faster motors, the Cub harkened back to the early days of outboard motoring, when convenience, not power, was crucial. This model evokes not the thundering excitement of race winners, but the calm of a leisurely afternoon spent on the water. Indeed, from his summer house on Upper Nashotah Lake, Milwaukee native Hubert L. Will (1914-1995) and his family used this motor to power a canoe on Oconomowoc, Wisconsin area lakes in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Elto Outdoor Motor Co. was the second major outboard motor company founded by industry legend Ole Evinrude. The story of how Ole and his wife Bess developed and marketed his outboard motors was examined in the Wisconsin Magazine of History.

Because the relentless pace of the company's growth damaged Bess's health, Ole sold his half of the Evinrude Motor Company to his partner Chris Meyer in 1913 with the condition that Evinrude stay out of the outboard motor business for five years.

Evinrude continued privately designing motors while he was away, developing a new engine that made extensive use of lightweight aluminum. His new twin cylinder design weighed one third less than the Evinrude Motor Co.'s best selling (single cylinder) model and produced 50% more power. Out of loyalty, Evinrude offered his new design to Meyer, who failed to see its promise.

Five years having expired, in 1920 Ole and Bess decided to re-enter the outboard business with their new design, but still could not use the "Evinrude" name. Instead, they called their new Milwaukee venture the Elto Outdoor Motor Co. ELTO was Bess's effort to create a distinctive, one-word brand name like "Kodak." It derived from the first letters of "Evinrude Light Twin Outboard."

By 1925, Elto's sales topped those of previous industry leader Evinrude Motor Co. Meanwhile, however, the upstart Johnson Motors Co. of South Bend, Indiana, had surpassed them both. Johnson promoted its larger, more powerful motors through celebrity endorsements and racing competitions.

Winning races was the key to marketing success in the 1920s, and Elto took up the challenge. In 1928 the company introduced America's first four cylinder two-cycle outboard motor, the Super Elto Quad, which was capable of speeds over 35 mph. Though still outsold by Johnson, Elto was the industry's most profitable company that year.

Meanwhile, the Evinrude Motor Co. floundered, and in 1929, Stephen Foster Briggs, co-founder of its new owner, Briggs & Stratton Corporation, proposed a merger between the Evinrude Motor Co., the Elto Outdoor Motor Co., and the Lockwood Motor Co. of Jackson, Michigan. Eager to regain his namesake company, Evinrude agreed to the deal and became president of the new Outboard Motors Corporation (OMC), headquartered in Milwaukee.

Initially, each of the three companies marketed a complete line of motors, but as the Great Depression eroded sales, a new strategy was called for. "Evinrude" became the premium brand, while "Elto" was positioned as the company's economy line. This streamlining helped the company survive the worst years of the Depression, but with the acquisition of the Johnson Motors Co. in 1935 - one year after Ole Evinrude's death - Elto became something of an orphan within the OMC family.

The Elto Cub filled a small niche in the outboard market of the late 1930s. Its price of $29.50 appealed to Depression-stretched pocketbooks, but, although its light weight made it remarkably convenient, the Cub was suitable only for the lightest duty use.

The Cub was discontinued in 1941 and the "Elto" brand name was not far behind. World War II ended production of civilian models, and the prosperous post-war economy demanded larger, faster, more feature-laden motors. OMC neglected to resume the brand immediately after the war (although it did try a one year re-introduction in 1949).

Though now popular with collectors, the Cub is something of a footnote in outboard motor history. It represents the sunset of a well-known Wisconsin outboard motor brand established by one of the most famous names in the industry.

[Sources: Hunn, Peter. The Old Outboard Book, 3rd ed. (Camden, ME: International Marine, 2002); Rodengen, Jeffrey L. Evinrude, Johnson and the Legend of OMC (Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Write Stuff Syndicate, 1993); Lambrecht, Ralph. A Wisconsin Legend: Ole Evinrude and His Outboard Motor, Wisconsin Magazine of History (Spring 2006)]


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Posted on July 06, 2006