Library

HISTORY TOPICS

Snowmobiles

Snowmobiles crossing a bridge. Location no. GV3.78 p2The earliest attempts at developing mechanized vehicles that could travel over snow date back to the first years of the 20th century. Using various track designs combined with skis and some form of engine power, their inventors called them snow sleds, motorized toboggans or sleighs. A Ford dealer coined the term "snowmobile" to describe the Model T Ford automobile that he had mounted on tracks and skis.

Snowmobiling as a recreational winter sport had its start in northern Minnesota where Polaris Industries of Roseau, Minnesota, introduced the first modern vehicles for sale to the public in 1955. Developed by David Johnson, Alan and Edgar Heteen, partners in a farm equipment business, snowmobiles caught on so well that, within a few years, the developers re-directed their efforts from making farm equipment to the manufacture of Polaris snowmobiles. In April, 1968, Ralph Plaisted of St. Paul, Minnesota, made history when he and his group reached the North Pole on Bombardier Ski-Doo snowmobiles, the first mechanized expedition to do so.

Snowmobiling became a popular winter activity and soon spawned an allied fashion industry of snowmobile clothing, boots, and headwear. Snowmobile clubs formed. Sales of snowmobiles peaked in 1968-69. In the mid-1970s, during the oil embargo, the industry was hit hard and many snowmobile manufacturers were forced out of business. Some that survived, like Polaris, added All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) to their manufacturing lines.

GET STARTED WITH SECONDARY SOURCES:

  • Legend: Arctic Cat's First Quarter Century, by C.J. Ramstad.
    Deephaven, Minn.: PPM Books, c1987.
    MHS call number: HD9714.U64 A737 1987.
  • The Legend of Polaris, by Jeffrey L. Rodengen and Richard F. Hubbard.
    Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Write Stuff Enterprises, 2003.
    MHS call number: HD 9714 .U64 P657 2003.
  • Polaris Pioneers: A Star is Born, by Jerry Bassett.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Published for Polaris Industries by Recreational Publications, c1989.
    MHS call number: HD9714.U64 P642 1989.
  • The Trail of the Cat: A History of Arctic Enterprises, Inc.
    [Minnesota: The Corporation, 1975?]
    MHS call number: HD9714.U64 A738 1975.
  • Warriors of Winter: The Previously Untold History of Snowmobile Racing, by Bill Vint.
    Milwaukee, Wis.: Market Communications, 1977.
    MHS call number: Reading Room GV857.S6 V46 1977.

PRIMARY RESOURCES:

  • Plaisted Polar Expedition Papers.
    Newspaper clippings and other papers related to two snowmobile expeditions from northern Canada to the North Pole organized by Ralph Plaisted, a St. Paul insurance agent, snowmobile enthusiast, and amateur explorer. After an aborted attempt in 1967, Plaisted's group reached the North Pole in April 1968, the first mechanized expedition to do so and the first to arrive by sled since 1909. The news stories include information about snowmobiling.
    MHS call number: P1990; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is 1 folder of material).
    Note: Ralph Plaisted's papers are at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
  • Winter Carnival Association Records.
    This archival collection contains minutes, scattered correspondence and financial information, administration files, and printed materials of the voluntary organization that has sponsored a midwinter festival in St. Paul, Minnesota, since 1885. The administration files (27 boxes) contain financial and membership information, event files (documenting both indoor and outdoor activities), publicity and promotional material, festival schedules, and a variety of printed materials. Photographs, legends, and background information concerning the history of the carnival and its royal court are also included. Additionally, the collection includes records documenting the establishment, organization, and operation of the annual International 500 Snowmobile Race from Winnipeg to St. Paul (1966-1982).
    MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks — filed under Saint Paul Winter Carnival Association — for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 46 boxes, but not all relate to this topic); or use an electronic version of the inventory.
  • Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.