Pure Genius: Carl Kiekhaefer

Revolutionizing the outboard industry.

Carl Kiekhaefer
Carl Kiekhaefer was known for his showmanship.Carl Kiekhaefer

Mercury Marine is synonymous with outboard engines. And outboards, as we know, are a hugely popular segment of the yachting marketplace.

Without Carl Kiekhaefer, the company’s founder, there is no Mercury. Kiekhaefer had little intention of becoming a giant in the yachting industry when he purchased a manufacturing plant near his family’s Wisconsin farm in 1939. No, he planned on slinging magnetic separators to the dairy industry, but fate intervened.

Included with the plant’s assets were 300 shoddily built outboard engines. Where most saw scrap metal, Kiekhaefer saw opportunity. He inspected the engines, then drew up what he thought was a better design, with a stronger crankshaft. The engines became popular, and Kiekhaefer founded Mercury. The rest, as they say, is history.

Carl Kiekhaefer, Outboard Engines
The evolution of Mercury Marine outboard engines over time with the help of Kiekhaefer.Courtesy Mercury Marine
Carl Kiekhaefer
Aside from being an engineering wizard, Kiekhaefer was also a master showman. Under his watch, Mercury became famous for performing promotional stunts such as the jumps seen below. Another stunt included a 5,000-pound elephant named Millie that Kiekhaefer put on specially designed water skis and pulled around behind a Mercury-powered boat for an ad. The tagline for that ad? “Pulls an elephant, runs on peanuts.”Courtesy Mercury Marine