Bill Dance Outdoors


In 1961, G.H. Harris of Jackson, Mississippi was tired of sculling his small fishing boat around nearby Ross Barnett Reservoir. So he began toying with the idea of building an electric motor to move his boat along at fishing speeds.

Although the SilverTrol electric motor had been invented some 30 years by then, Harris found it to be awkward to use, having to turn it on and be steered by hand. He wanted something he could operate with his foot so it didn’t distract from his fishing.

Tinkering with a field wound electric motor, Harris developed a system that used a spring-loaded direction control that he could operate with his foot to steer his boat. When he would take his foot off the pedal, the spring would return the motor to its straight-ahead position. Local fishermen liked what they saw and began buying the hand-made electric trolling motors from Harris.

It wasn’t long after that his invention caught the attention of the folks at the Herschede Hall Clock Co. in Starkville, makers of high-quality grandfather clocks. They struck a deal with Harris to build and sell his new design, and called it the Guide-Rite.

Changes and improvements came rapidly, including the patented use of rack-and-pinion steering in the mid-60s that made the directional control more sensitive and reliable. Static thrust was a whopping 10 pounds of thrust. The product’s name was changed to the more technical sounding – MotorGuide.

The introduction of the streamlined, fiberglass Skeeter Hawk around this same time had southern fishermen liking Harris’ motor for fishing in the shallows. Then in 1967, along came an Alabama insurance salesman named Ray Scott and his different idea for fishing tournaments. Scott’s tournament had boats with two contenders, one to keep an eye on the other. And when the first one on Beaver Lake, Arkansas was over, a law enforcement officer named Stan Sloan had won. Interestingly, Sloan had moved his trolling motor from the transom to the bow, and the configuration of the modern day bass boat was born.

“Is it easier to push a chain or pull a chain?” Sloan asked. The answer was an easy one.

Quickly, the trolling motor began to evolve. Instead of field wound electric motors, MotorGuide began offering its motors with permanent magnets. This allowed the size of the motor to be reduced from over four inches in diameter to three inches. It also meant the magnet strength could be manipulated and you could get more power out of the electric motor more efficiently.

At about the same time, MotorGuide engineers developed the Super MotorGuide, an electric motor that used Darlington transistors to produce a variable speed trolling motor. Rather than three pre-set speeds using speed coils, the Super MotorGuide had infinitely variable speed up to 75% of the motor’s capacity. But the new advancement was expensive; a few fishermen were willing to pay extra for it when they were still fascinated with the most basic of trolling motors.

Nearly a decade after Harris built his first motor, all of the trolling motors were attached the same way – with a screw clamp. But in the early 1970’s, inventor Pete Horton devised a bracket with angle arms and a main brace that allowed the trolling motor to be stored flat along the bow of the boat and then extend into the water for use. He brought his idea to MotorGuide, which became the first company to offer such a model.

In 1975, two key events took place. MotorGuide pioneered the first 12/24-volt motor, allowing a fisherman to operate his motor as before with a single 12-volt battery or to double its power to approximately 24 pounds of thrust by connecting a second battery in series. The advancement made trolling motors more efficient and meant that bass boats - growing ever to accommodate the increase demand for speed in racing to attractive fishing spots – could still be moved at reasonable speed by an electric motor for fishing.

The second event was the purchase of all of the various business interest conducted by the Herschede family and its partners by John Robert Arnold, himself one of the partners. Consolidated under the umbrella of Arnold Industries the products included clocks, furniture, parking meters, pottery, lamps, and the MotorGuide electric fishing motors.

With the ending of the energy crisis than stunted boat and outboard sales, came a boom in the bass boat business. Outboards reached 200 hp. Bass boats of 17 feet and longer became common. Trolling motor technology had to keep up. Stainless steel shafts that would not bend easily when the momentum of a 17-foot fiberglass boat carried them into a rock were developed.

When that proved insufficient, MotorGuide developed the first “clutch” bracket, which would allow the force of the impact to slip a clutch and enable to fold the shaft of the trolling motor unharmed back toward the hull of the boat.

MotorGuide pushed out power thresholds, developing the Hawg (a 12-volt motor that would generate 28 pounds of thrust) and the Brute (a 12/24-volt motor with clutch bracket that would produce 34 pounds of thrust).

At the same time, new problems were developing. Mounting systems using regular screws were cracking the gel coats of $10,000 boats, a situation that could not go unresolved. MotorGuide developed the first blind hold mounting isolator system, which enabled a trolling motor to be installed from the top of the deck and held in place by four rubber sheathed screws. The system meant that riggers no longer had to be contortionists to install trolling motors and that the sensitive motors could be insulated by the shock of rough water or trailering by the rubber isolators.

By the end of the 1970’s, MotorGuide’s reputation was established. Entering the decade as one of the numerous manufacturers of trolling motors, MotorGuide emerged 10 years later as the acknowledged leader in technology and performance. Others might copy and sell their motors for less, but the advancements in trolling motors were time and again initiated by MotorGuide engineers.

In 1984, MotorGuide was acquired by Brunswick Corporation and became part of their Zebco fishing tackle operation headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma. MotorGuide administration was in Tulsa, but the manufacturing operation remained in Starkville, Mississippi.

In 1993, MotorGuide acquired Swivl-Eze, a Texas-based marine accessories company that makes fishing seat pedestals, base plates, transom savers and other boat products. Swivl-Eze now reports up under the Brunswick Boat Group.

In 1999, Pinpoint trolling motors and sonar also joined the MotorGuide family.

In 2000, MotorGuide moved the manufacturing operation from Starkville to Tulsa. Later that same year Brunswick decided to sell Zebco and the tackle business, but to keep MotorGuide and make it a part of Mercury Marine.

In 2002 MotorGuide introduced its patented Digital Guardian module that has greatly improved durability and continued MotorGuide's leadership position of durability and reliability.

In 2005 MotorGuide introduced their Wireless Series Trolling Motors that showcase a built-in wireless receiver that is compatible with up to 4 Wireless components at one time including the Wireless Foot-pedal that comes with the motor and the popular Wireless Hand-Held Remote that is sold as an option.

Today, MotorGuide trolling motors are still being made at the company’s ISO 9001:2001 Certified plant in Tulsa with American pride.

But don’t take our word for it, see for yourself. Check out our MotorGuide products and remember.

Never Stop Learning, Never Stop Improving, And Never, Ever Stop Fishing.

// visit motorguide.com //

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