'Godfather' of snowmobile industry

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2011 - 11:02 PM

He started Polaris and Arctic Cat. His 1960 trip across Alaska proved snowmobiles' reliability.

hide

Whether it was wheelchairs, snowmobiles or other products, said Gary Lemke, Edgar Hetteen always looked to make improvements.

Photo: Art Hager, Star Tribune file

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Edgar Hetteen, an inventor and "godfather" of a Minnesota snowmobile industry in the 1950s that spawned Polaris and Arctic Cat, died Saturday in Grand Rapids, Minn. He was 90.

"One of his great traits was tenacity," said Gary Lemke, a onetime Arctic Cat dealer and retired CEO of ASV, a Grand Rapids manufacturer of all-season utility vehicles, a business he started with Hetteen in 1983. "He always said, 'There's got to be a better way.'" He tried to find it, in snowmobiles, ATVs, wheelchairs and other products.

The snowmobile was invented as a utility product before Hetteen got involved, Lemke said. "But he improved the snowmobile and his 1960 trip across Alaska proved the reliability and he invented the 'sport' of snowmobiling. And he always surrounded himself with good people at Polaris and elsewhere."

The son of Swedish immigrants, Hetteen grew up on a farm near Roseau, Minn. A tinkerer, he developed a keen eye for innovation and invention, despite only an eighth-grade education. He worked in an uncle's machine shop as a teenager, served in the military and started Hetteen Hoist and Derrick in 1945.

The company expanded to build farm equipment and eventually became Polaris Industries, run by Edgar and two brothers. In 1956, Polaris produced its first snowmobile and Edgar became its champion, leading three snowmobilers across 1,200 miles of Alaskan wilderness in 1960.

Hetteen left Polaris later that year to start Arctic Cat, which also grew to be a major snowmobile and ATV company.

"Edgar was an icon, a snowmobile pioneer and visionary who helped grow ... a thriving pursuit and business that people love worldwide," said Polaris President Bennett Morgan. "He was an inspiration to generations of Polaris employees who admired his Budesire for innovation.

"Edgar's spirit and passion for people and snowmobiling never left our company, and over the past several decades he has been a wonderful ambassador for Polaris and for snowmobiling.''

In the early 1980s, Arctic Cat and Polaris fell on hard times amid recession and a series of light-snow winters. But both survived and became major public companies and employers, based in Thief River Falls and Medina, respectively.

In 1983, Hetteen and Lemke started ASV, another Hetteen invention that made big inroads with wide tracks. By using tracks similar to a tank's, vehicles greatly reduce damage to lawn and roadway compared with wheeled vehicles. ASV-equipped vehicles are used by contractors, landscapers and farmers. The military uses them in clearing landmines.

"Edgar brought credibility to the company," Lemke said. "We found investors, suppliers and others and we built a company of $250 million in sales."

ASV, which had 250 employees, was sold in 2008 to Connecticut-based construction-equipment giant Terex Corp. in a stock transaction valued at $488 million.

Hetteen was the millionaire next door.

"Money did not drive him," Lemke said. "His driving force was to make things better for people, whether a wheelchair, snowmobiles or ASV-type vehicles. ... Not all were successful. He could rub people the wrong way with his tenacity, but he was almost always proved right. He was generous, but most of his donations were anonymous. He tried to make things better for the elderly.''

His widow, Hannah, survives him in the same nursing home in Grand Rapids where Hetteen lived the last years of his life. A funeral will be held Saturday at the Grace Bible Chapel in Grand Rapids.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144

  • related content

  • Allan Hetteen, Edgar Hetteen and a mechanic

  • Edgar Hetteen

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 99 FINAL
Utah 90
Denver 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
TX A&M-CC 70 FINAL
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 66 FINAL
Alabama A&M 78
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alabama State 63
Prairie View 68 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 105
Texas 86 FINAL
Iowa State 89
Texas Southern 85 FINAL
Miss Valley St 84
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 59 FINAL
Auburn 48
(15) Nebraska 72 FINAL
(20) Iowa 78
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close