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November 22: Hitting the Trails

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It might be surprising to learn how early the snowmobile was invented. It was on this date in 1927 that the United States Patent office granted a patent for a “motor toboggan” to Wisconsin native Carl Eliason. He was ahead of his time as he dreamed of a motorized vehicle that could travel on snow. In 1924, he tested a prototype of what he called the Motor Toboggan and obtained the patent three years later. His machine seems quite primitive compared with modern snowmobiles, but it worked. It was a wooden toboggan with two skis steered by ropes and propelled by a specially adapted two-and-a-half horsepower Johnson outboard.

Eliason began building Motor Toboggans in his Sayner, Wisconsin shop. By the 1940s, he received more orders than the shop could handle! So, a company in Clintonville, Wisconsin took over production. In 1947, production moved again to Kitchner, Ontario. Eliason Motor Toboggans were produced until the 1960s.

Eliason was not the first person to dream of motorized winter travel. The Patent Office issued a patent for a snow vehicle as early as 1896, but nothing came of it. In Canada, Joseph Bombardier developed a snow vehicle, but it never went into wide production. Eliason’s 1927 machine stands out because it was both mass-produced and reliable.

Many snowmobile enthusiasts consider North Dakota an excellent destination for snowmobile adventures. There are fourteen state snowmobile trails covering over two-thousand-eight-hundred miles. Volunteers of Snowmobile North Dakota help to keep the trails well-groomed.

A 2007 survey reported that the most popular destination is the Peace Garden Trail. North Dakota gets high marks for both the number of trails and the quality. The North Dakota app makes it easy to track a snowmobiler’s location on the trail, get updates on trail conditions, and locate nearby amenities. The survey noted that snowmobilers spend money on equipment, clothing, and accessories, as well as snowmobiling vacations. North Dakota businesses that benefit from the sport include hotels, restaurants, and gas stations. Snowmobiles have become big business in North Dakota, so here’s a tip of the hat, to inventor Carl Eliason.

 Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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