Born in Valcourt, Quebec, Joseph Armand Bombardier made his first propeller driven snow machine in 1922 at the age of fifteen. Four years later, he started his career as an inventor and entrepreneur, in a garage his father provided.
The first machines that Bombardier built in his garage were modified old cars, built along the same line as the “snowmobile” patent granted to Virgil D. White in the U.S. in 1913. Between 1927 and 1931, he sold about ten of these machines. However, he was not satisfied with the heavy, hard to maneuver snowmobiles.
By 1934 Joseph Armand gave up the propeller system on his snowmobiles, deciding they were too dangerous, and returned to the track principal. The next year he designed the sprocket wheel/track system, which turned out to be the most important invention of his career.
Bombardier made another important decision regarding his career in 1936 when he decided to go ahead and begin manufacturing snowmobiles on his own. Had he decided to sell his inventions to a larger company, a different history would have been written. On June 29, 1937, the Canadian government granted him a patent on the “Bombardier”.
While Joseph Armand Bombardier’s early successes were all with the motorized track vehicle designed to carry numerous passengers, he never forgot his childhood dream to build a single-person machine that would float over the snow. In April of 1959 the first prototype was ready. It weighed 150 kilos (330 pounds) and had a 4-speed Kohler engine. This snowmobile reached a maximum speed of 24 kilometers per hour!
In 1963 Bombardier made one final business decision regarding his snowmobiles. While he was not unhappy with the Kohler engines, they did not quite meet all of his demands. After testing various other engines, Joseph Armand chose the Austrian made Rotax, which is still used today.
Joseph Armand Bombardier died of cancer on February 18, 1964, at the age of 56. In his lifetime he obtained 24 Canadian patents, 16 U.S. patents, and 1 British patent. He was, in addition to being an inventor, an entrepreneur who built up an extraordinary Canadian business. Most important of all, he recognized that talent, without hard work, would produce nothing.
Joseph Armand Bombardier was inducted into the International Snowmobile Racing Hall of Fame in 1989.
Aksomitis, L. (2003). Snowmobile adventures: The incredible Canadian success story from Bombardier to the Villeneuves. Canmore, Alta: Altitude Pub. Canada.
MacDonald, L. (2001). The Bombardier story: Planes, trains, and snowmobiles. Toronto: J. Wiley.