Carl Eliason

Carl Eliason was born in Saynor, Wisconsin in 1899. Since a disability kept him from participating in many things, such as hunting and fishing during the winter months, he dreamed of a machine that would carry him through the woods where everyone else walked with snowshoes.

The Eliason snowmobile on display at the Eagle River Reunion

Carl experimented with snowmobiles like the one invented by White — a car conversion patented as the snowmobile in 1913. However the car conversions were next to useless in heavy snow or through trees, and he turned his creativity to devising a different kind of snow machine that would fulfill his needs.

After two years of work, Carl had a machine he called the Eliason “motor toboggan”, which is actually the forerunner of today’s snowmobile. The 1924 snowmobile was powered by a front mounted, liquid cooled 2.5 HP Johnson outboard engine. The toboggan used slide rail track guides and wooden cleats, with running boards made of two downhill skis, contoured into the belly pan. The sled was steered with a rope, by a driver seated over the track.

Now, Carl was able to cover more terrain than his friends on snowshoes, and he always arrived first! The sled did, however, require certain techniques to get it running. First of all, the floating tracks were elevated. Then the engine was started and revved to speed as the spinning track gained momentum. The machine moved once the track was gently lowered onto the snow.

This machine was granted a U.S. patent in 1927 as a “motor toboggan”. Over the next fifteen years Carl built forty more motor toboggans which he sold. Of these, no more than three machines were exactly alike. Soon the business was too big for Carl. The Four Wheel Drive Auto Company of Clintonville took over manufacturing, with Carl as their Consultant. During World War II the U.S.Army bought 150 of the motor toboggans which were used for defence in Alaska.

Carl Eliason died in 1979. While he is certainly responsible for inventing the ancestor of the snowmobile we ride today, the name, of course, comes from the original patent by White of the car conversion. Eliason, in creating something to overcome his own disability, changed the whole concept of winter transportation.

He was inducted into International Snowmobile Racing Hall of Fame in 1991.


Aksomitis, L. (2003). Snowmobile adventures: The incredible Canadian success story from Bombardier to the Villeneuves. Canmore, Alta: Altitude Pub. Canada.

Eliason Snowmobiles. (2009)

Vint, B. (1977). Warriors of winter: The previously untold history of snowmobile racing. Milwaukee: Market Communications.

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