Roseau Times-Region - Serving Roseau County for over 100 Years - The Official Roseau County Newspaper

Polaris Has a long history


August 12, 2019

65 Mustang Sno-Traveler

1944: Edgar Hetteen establishes his first business, Hetteen Hoist & Derrick in Roseau, Minnesota. The business operates from a building that was once a rural dance hall, the Pine Needle Inn. The structure had been moved into Roseau before Hetteen moved in.

1946: Following his discharge from the Navy, David Johnson joins Edgar as a business partner. While in the service, David had invested in Edgar's company by sending home money from his Navy paychecks.

1946: Allan Hetteen, Edgar's younger brother, begins working for the company. Edgar and Allan Hetteen and David Johnson form the nucleus of what will become Polaris Industries.

1954: On July 21, the company is renamed and incorporated as Polaris Industries Inc. The name "Polaris" – the North Star – refers to the company's location on the northern border of Minnesota. The new, less product-specific name reflects the company's flexibility to produce and service myriad products.

1956: The first Polaris snowmobile is driven for the first time by Orlen Johnson, who built the machine with David Johnson and Paul Knochenmus. The machine was soon sold to area lumberyard owner H.F. "Pete" Peterson for $465 to help the Hetteen company meet its payroll.

1956: Allan Hetteen builds snowmobile No. 2, the oldest Polaris snowmobile still in existence. It is housed in the Polaris Experience Center in Roseau.

1956: Onlookers are impressed as David Johnson demonstrates the speed and power of the Polaris snowmobile at the annual Trappers' Festival in The Pas, Manitoba.

1956: Polaris supplies Canadian distributor H.C. "Harry" Paul with his first shipment of snowmobiles. Unlike red Polaris Sno-Travelers, Paul's machines are painted Prairie Gold, and carry the name "Autoboggan."

1957: A truckload of Sno-Travelers are shipped to Alaska, which will become a significant proving ground for the early snowmobiles.

Throughout the 1950s: Polaris produces a variety of farm equipment such as grain elevators and straw choppers and serves as a service shop, doing welding and general repair work – anything to help pay the bills – primarily for Roseau-area farmers.

1958: The U.S. Air Force uses a Polaris Sno-Traveler to get within 400 miles of the North Pole despite -48˚ weather.

1959: The "Swamp Buggy," a variation on a snowmobile, is manufactured. In warm-weather months, it rolls on large wheels. In winter, it crosses the snow on a set of snowmobile tracks.

1959: Polaris Industries holds its first annual meeting. Along with the three principles, the board includes two outside directors. In the year ahead, the company will reorganize and issue stock.

1960: Edgar Hetteen and Erling Falk of Roseau, and Rudy and Bessie Billberg of Alaska ride three Sno-Travelers 1,200 miles from Bethel to Fairbanks, Alaska, in 21 days. Edgar expects the trip to generate publicity that leads to sales. It creates publicity nationwide, but it also angers the two "outsiders" on the board, and Edgar resigns as president.

1960: Edgar Hetteen moves to Alaska. Within a year, though, he returns to Minnesota and in Thief River Falls he opens a Polaris competitor, Arctic Enterprises, which produces Arctic Cat snowmobiles. To this day, Edgar remains the only person in history to start two snowmobile companies.

1961: On June 30, Allan Hetteen, age 31, succeeds his brother Edgar as president of Polaris.

1962: Construction begins on a modern, 24,000-sq. ft. manufacturing plant in Roseau. The expansion allows Polaris to increase production and add 100 employees.

1962: International sales thrive as three truckloads of snowmobiles roll out of the factory, ready for shipment to Sweden.

1963: In the spring, Allan Hetteen and David Pearson test the new front-engined Comet, set for release as a 1964 model, on glacial fields near Mt. McKinley in Alaska. The machine performs beautifully.

1963: The first sales meeting is held for approximately 200 Polaris dealers from across North America who order the new 1964 models.

1963: In the early winter, Polaris learns that while the Comet worked on glacial hard-pack, it doesn't work on snow common to the snowbelt. Numerous components fail on hundreds of Comet models, forcing the company into a costly recall/repair program.

1964: Thirteen-year-old Stan Hayes, an 8th grader from Crandon, Wisconsin, wins the first Eagle River (Wis.) World Championship Snowmobile Derby title on a Polaris.

1964: Polaris introduces the Mustang, a sporty, front-engined snowmobile that greatly expands the recreational appeal of snowmobiling.

1966: Herb Howe wins the first Winnipeg to St. Paul 500-mile Winter Carnival race on a Colt and Polaris racers finish 1st through 5th. (Polaris racer Gerry Reese won the race in 1967; and numerous Polaris racers have won versions of the I-500 since then, making Polaris one of the most dominant brands ever in terrain racing.)

1966: Clark Dahlin and Jim Langley ride two 1967 Colts from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Maine, covering 4,018 miles in 23 days.

1968: The new 1969 snowmobiles are introduced and for the first time some models use engines supplied by Fuji Heavy Industries. Within three years every Polaris snowmobile will have a Fuji engine.

1968: On July 31, Polaris stockholders approve the sale of the company to Textron. Polaris had attracted several potential buyers. Textron was chosen with hopes it would invest in Polaris to fuel its growth and provide Roseau-area employees with job security.

1970: LeRoy Lindblad wins the first of his two consecutive Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500 Races.

1970: Polaris opens a sales and marketing office in Minneapolis with Executive Vice President Herbert C. Graves III in charge.

1970: On June 1, Allan Hetteen retires as president and is succeeded by Herbert C. Graves III, the first Polaris president based in Minneapolis rather than Roseau.

1973: Bob Eastman wins the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby and Stan Hayes wins the Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500.

In the 1970s: The snowmobile industry was saturated with manufacturers –there were 123 brands of snowmobiles at one point – and there was a glut of unsold machines. Companies left the business by the score, while manufacturers such as Polaris fought through tough market conditions. Making matters worse were inflation, the nation's gas shortage and several low- and no-snow winters.

1973: Beverly F. Dolan succeeds Herbert Graves as Polaris president and oversees the newly formed Polaris/E-Z-Go Division of Textron.

1973: While helping a neighbor on November 24, former President Allan Hetteen dies as the result of a tractor accident in rural Roseau.

1975: Jim Bernat wins the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby and Ed Monsrud wins the Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500.

1976: The TX-L 340 uses the first Polaris liquid-cooled engine and is popular with both cross-country racers and recreational riders.

1976: Beverly F. Dolan is promoted to president Textron's Homelite Division and is succeeded by David F. "Fritz" Myers as president of Polaris.

1977: Steve Thorsen wins his first of two consecutive Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby titles on Polaris RXLs with independent front suspension.

1977: Archie Simonson wins the Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500 race as nine of the first 10 racers ride Polaris sleds.

1978: On February 26, popular and successful Polaris racer Jerry Bunke – part of the legendary "Midnight Blue Express" – dies as the result of a racing accident in Beausejour, Manitoba, Canada. Polaris soon after ends its factory racing program.

1979: Paul Matejka wins the Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500 race.

1979: Polaris introduces its first independent front suspension (IFS) consumer snowmobile, the outstanding 1980 TX-L Indy.

In the late-1970s: Textron purchased Polaris in 1968 because the snowmobile business was growing and profitable. But snowmobile sales crested and fell in the 1970s. By the end of the decade, Textron was extremely eager to sell Polaris, which had become an unprofitable division. When Textron named W. Hall Wendel as president of Polaris in 1980, one of his assignments was to sell Polaris. Wendel succeeded in ways Textron management, in 1980, could never imagine.

1980: Bruce Olson wins the I-500 cross-country snowmobile race, the first victory on a Polaris "Indy" model.

1980: Management of Textron, which owns Polaris names W. Hall Wendel, Jr., president of Polaris, a promotion from his role as Vice President of Marketing for Polaris/E-Z-Go. One of his assignments is to sell Polaris as the entire snowmobile industry suffers from low-snow winters.

1981: On July 21, Textron sells its Polaris Division to a group of investors and Polaris managers that includes: company Chairman William H. Wendel, Sr.; President W. Hall Wendel, Jr.; Executive Vice President and Treasurer Robert Moe; V.P. Marketing Bruce Rushton; V.P. Sales John Fiebelkorn; V.P. of Engineering Charles "Chuck" Baxter; V.P. of Manufacturing Arnold "Arnie" Ochs; Secretary Keith Libbey; and David Johnson, Manager of Roseau Plant Services. Polaris is once again an independent company.

1981: Low-snow winters plague the snowmobile business and Polaris is forced into layoffs at its Roseau facility. Only about a dozen employees are retained to maintain the plant in hopes that production can resume.

1981: Polaris offers 3-wheeled ATVs to Cenex, a farm cooperative, and to John Deere. Polaris proposes branding the machines for these customers, red ATVs for Cenex and green ones for Deere, but the sales do not materialize.

1984: Polaris acquires the John Deere snowmobile operation. Polaris never builds Deere sleds, but does sell off the Deere parts inventory.

1985: In March, Polaris enters the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) business. Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich rides the first Polaris ATV – a 4-wheeled Trail Boss – off the Roseau assembly line, where 3-wheeled Scramblers are also produced.

1987: Polaris is sold to a limited partnership called Polaris Industries, L.P., and Polaris stock begins trading on the American Stock Exchange under the symbol “SNO” at $20 a share.

1987: Nolan Knochenmus of Roseau wins the I-500 cross-country snowmobile race as Polaris racers take nine of the top 10 spots. Lauren Wolff wins the I-500 in 1988 and Jeremy Fyle wins in 1989.

1987: Polaris launches its Grant-In-Aid program, providing funds to grassroots snowmobile, ATV, watercraft and motorcycle groups.

1988: Polaris co-founder David Johnson retires after 42 years with the company.

1988: Ken Larson joins Polaris as President, succeeding W. Hall Wendel, Jr., who remains the Chairman and CEO.

1988: Polaris begins ATV Safety Training, which consists of dealers providing safety training to buyers of new Polaris ATVs.

1989: The Polaris Indy 500 is named “Snowmobile of the Decade” by SNOWMOBILE Magazine.

1989: Polaris celebrates its 35th anniversary with a huge party at Roseau.

1990: Polaris opens a production facility in Osceola, WI. It becomes home to Polaris domestic engine assembly and the Victory engineering group.

1990: The newly introduced 1991 snowmobile line is the industry’s first lineup comprised solely of models with independent front suspension (no leaf spring models).

1991: Jack Struthers wins the I-500 cross-country snowmobile race. He also wins in 1992 and 1994 to become the first-ever to win the race three times.

1991: Polaris introduces its first personal watercraft (PWC), the SL650.

1994: Polaris opens a production facility in Spirit Lake, IA. Watercraft, ATVs, snowmobiles and Victory Motorcycles are eventually produced there.

1995: David Olson becomes the first-ever Polaris watercraft racing champion, winning the IJSBA’s Novice Runabout 785 Superstock national title.

1995: Polaris achieves annual sales revenue of $1 billion for the first time in company history, recording $1.11 billion in sales.

1996: Corey Davidson wins the I-500 cross-country snowmobile race and Troy Pierce and Todd Krikke win the Soo I-500 enduro race, their first of two-straight Soo victories.

1996: Frank Romero becomes the first Pro class World Champion on a Polaris watercraft, winning the IJSBA Pro Runabout 1200 title.

1997: A state-of-the-art distribution center opens in Vermillion, SD, for distribution of parts, garments and accessories.

1997: The Victory motorcycle is introduced as Indy car champion Al Unser, Jr., rides a pre-production V92C into a packed Planet Hollywood at the Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis.

1998: Polaris expands its off-road business with the Polaris RANGER side by side vehicle.

1998: Victory motorcycle production begins at the Spirit Lake, IA, facility, on July 4.

1998: Cycle World, the world’s largest-circulation motorcycle magazine, names the Victory V92C “Best Cruiser” of 1998.

1998: Tom Tiller joins Polaris as President and in 1999 succeeds W. Hall Wendel, Jr., as CEO.

1998: Joe Klein of New Jersey is the first to ride a Victory V92C coast to coast. He rides from Manhattan to San Francisco on his “Rock to Rock” ride.

1999: The Victory V92C is named Cruiser of the Year by Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.

1999: Christy Carlson wins the second Pro watercraft racing title for Polaris, the IJSBA Pro-Am Women’s Runabout World Championship.

2000: Polaris introduces the 120 XCR, its first true kid-sized snowmobile.

2000: Polaris founder Edgar Hetteen, his original partner David Johnson and a group of Polaris officials retrace the route of Edgar’s 1960 Sno-Traveler trek across Alaska on the “Breaking Trail 2002” ride.

2000: Billy Womack wins his second-straight (and third overall) Long Beach-2-Catalina and Back watercraft race (52 nautical miles; 66 land miles), this time on a Virage TX.

2000: Snow Goer magazines calls the 2001 Polaris Indy 600 XC SP “The Perfect Sled” and names it the “2001 Snowmobile of the Year.”

2001: ATV Magazine presents its first-ever “Legacy Award” to Polaris for its legendary PVT automatic ATV transmission.

2001: Gene Lemery of Menominee, MI, wins $1 million as grand prize winner in the Polaris Millionth Automatic $1 Million Giveaway. The promotion celebrates the 1 millionth Polaris ATV with the fully automatic PVT.

2001: Polaris launches the Polaris Professional Series (PPS) line of Workmobiles, which are strong and rugged utility vehicles designed specifically for professionals.

2001: Historians Allan Maybee and Roger Melton ride Genesis I watercraft 5,100 miles from New Orleans to the Pacific Ocean, tracing the route taken by the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800s.

2001: Victory introduces its new Freedom™ V-twin. This second-generation powerplant is built in-house.

2001: Polaris provides RANGERs to cleanup crews at Ground Zero in New York City, site of the 9/11 attacks.

2002: After receiving nearly 12 inches of rain over a June weekend, Roseau endures a devastating flood. City residents and volunteers from throughout the region work 24/7 for weeks to save the Polaris facility, the city hospital and the school.

2002: ATV Magazine names the Polaris Sportsman 700 Twin “ATV of the Year.”

2002: SnoWest magazine names the 2003 Indy 800 RMK Vertical Escape the “Sled of the Year,” one of numerous SnoWest awards won by Polaris deep snow sleds over the years.

2002: Polaris introduces its first stand-up watercraft, the Octane, and three revolutionary new MSX models, including the MSX 150 with a Polaris Liberty Marine High Output Turbo 4-Stroke 150 engine.

2002: Polaris introduces the Predator 500, an incredible high-performance sport quad.

2003: The Predator 500 is named “Sport ATV of the Year” by ATV Rider magazine; “ATV of the Year” by ATV Sport magazine; and “Sport Performance ATV of the Year” by the 2003 ATV Guide.

2003: A group of women snowmobilers raises more than $120,000 to fund breast cancer research during the first Way Out Women (WOW) Relay ride across Canada, of which Polaris is the chief sponsor.

2003: The Victory Vegas™ is named “Best Cruiser” for 2003 by Cycle World magazine; “2003 Cruiser of the Year” by Cruising Rider magazine; “Best New V-Twin Motorcycle” by V-Twin Magazine; and “Best Cruiser” by Motorcyclist magazine.

2003: Polaris introduces the Sportsman 700 Twin EFI, the world’s first electronically fuel-injected ATV.

2004: Polaris introduces the 900 Fusion™ and 900 RMK, a new generation of high-performance snowmobiles with the sophisticated Polaris IQ™ chassis.

2007: Polaris introduces RANGER RZR as first trail-capable & fastest acceleration side by side vehicle.

2008: Current Chairman and CEO Scott W. Wine joins Polaris.

2009: Polaris Off-road vehicle introductions in 2009 include: The first electric RANGER, the RANGER EV (MY 2010); the first midsize RANGER, the RANGER 400; the 800cc engine in the RANGER XP; and the first 4-seat sport side by side, the RANGER RZR 4 800 (MY10). Awards won by Polaris ORV include: Field & Stream Best of the Best, RANGER HD; ATV Magazine “ATV of the Year,” Sportsman 850 XP; and ATV Illustrated “Performance SxS of the Year,” RANGER RZR S.

2009: Victory Motorcycles introduces two new model year 2010 baggers, the Cross Roads and the Cross Country. Built on an innovative two-piece cast aluminum frame, they deliver outstanding performance, comfort, and cargo space. The Cross Roads has a windshield and the Cross Country has a stylish hard fairing with integrated audio and instrumentation.

2009: Polaris introduces the all-new PRO-RIDE snowmobile platform and suspension on the new 2010 600 RUSH model. The innovative PRO-RIDE rear suspension is a true progressive-rate suspension that delivers the best ride and overall performance on snow. Snow Goer magazine names the 600 RUSH as the 2010 Snowmobile of the Year.

2010-2013: To enhance manufacturing and accelerate the company’s growth and product diversification, Polaris acquires several companies or brands early in the new millennium. Along with Indian Motorcycle, GEM and Teton Outfitters, acquisitions include: Swissauto Powersports (acquired Feb. 2010), Goupil Industrie S.A. (Nov. 2011), Resilient Technologies (April 2012), Aixam Mega S.A.S. (April 2013), and Primordial (Oct. 2013).

2010: The RANGER EV wins Best of the Best honors from Field & Stream.

2011: Annual sales exceed $2 billion in sales for the first time. Polaris acquires legendary Indian Motorcycle brand and re-launches the Chieftain in Sturgis in 2013. Polaris acquires GEM electric-powered vehicles.

2011: On New Year’s Eve before the start of 2012, Polaris snowmobile racer and freestyle specialist Levi LaVallee sets a snowmobile distance jump world record with a leap of 412 feet in San Diego, California. He smashes the old mark of 361 feet, which he set in 2010.

2012: The company tops the $3 billion mark with 2012 annual sales of $3.210 billion.

2012: Snow Goer magazine names the Polaris 800 PRO-RMK 155 the 2013 Snowmobile of the Year. The editors praise the sled for its innovative technology and add, “it also just happens to be the best mountain snowmobile available. That makes it our King of the Hill – in the mountains, and in the snowmobile market for 2013.”

2012: Polaris in September breaks ground for an expansion of the Wyoming, Minnesota, Product Development Center. The 144,000-sq. ft. expansion doubles the space at the facility, which is home to several product engineering groups. Engineering teams move in and start working in the new space in mid-2013.

2012: In December, Indian Motorcycle releases audio of the brand’s new engine, and at Daytona Bike Week in March 2013, the all-new Thunder Stroke 111 V-Twin is unveiled and run in public for the first time.

2012: In December, Polaris acquires Teton Outfitters LLC, which designs, develops and distributes KLIM Technical Riding Gear, a leading brand of riding gear for snowmobilers, off-road riders, and motorcyclists. KLIM operations remain in Rigby, Idaho, and KLIM products are sold through Polaris-brand dealerships as well as independent motorsports dealers.

2013: Polaris launches Polaris POWER, highly portable generator units are the perfect power source for camping, hunting, tailgating or anything outdoors.

2013: Polaris snocross racer and freestyle specialist Levi LaVallee wins Winter X Games gold medals in Snowmobile Freestyle and Snowmobile Speed & Style. He is also ranked 19th in the ESPN/X Games 50 Most Influential People in Action Sports.

2013: Polaris snowmobile hillclimbers demonstrate complete Terrain Domination® in Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Assn. (RMSHA) competition, as they combine to win: 10 Pro points titles, three Semi-Pro titles; two Women’s titles; the Pro Masters Modified title; and the majority of the King of the Hill honors at the season’s five points events. Polaris hillclimbers won 23 of 24 Stock class finals during the season. Keith Curtis won points titles in five Pro classes and all five Stock King of the Hill crowns, and Erin Beukelman won three points titles and three King crowns.

2013: Indian Motorcycle wins recognition from several media outlets, including: Men’s Journal 2013 Gear of the Year, 2014 Indian Chief Vintage; Motorcyclist Magazine 2013 Best Dreamable Bike, Spirit of Munro Tribute Streamliner; and Road Runner Magazine, Motorcycle of the Year, 2014 Indian Chieftain.

2013: Polaris introduces the high-performance RZR XP 1000 (MY 14). names the RZR XP 900 the Best ATV/UTV of the Year, and the RANGER XP 900 wins Field & Stream Best of the Best honors.

2013: At the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, the all-new 2014 Indian Motorcycle models are revealed to the public for the first time. The 2014 model lineup includes the Indian Chief Classic cruiser, Indian Chief Vintage bagger, and Indian Chieftain with hard saddlebags, a formed fairing, and extensive electronics.

2014: Polaris celebrated the grand opening of its Opole, Poland Manufacturing facility, the first manufacturing facility outside of North America.

2014: Polaris defines another new off-road vehicle segment with the introduction of the Sportsman ACE. It features a unique new single passenger cab design, and automotive-style controls, including a steering wheel and foot pedals.

2014: Polaris celebrates 60 years of Terrain Domination with the introduction of the revolutionary new AXYS™ platform that delivers rider-balanced control on 2015 RUSH and Switchback models. This next-generation performance platform provides riders with rider-balanced control, unrivaled acceleration, and rider-centric comfort.

2015: Polaris purchases a new paint facility in Spearfish, South Dakota. The company also acquired Timbersled, the leading developer and manufacturer of snow bikes. Polaris introduces the Polaris GENERAL.

2016: Polaris opens its brand-new manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Polaris acquires Transamerican Auto Parts, the leading manufacturer, distributor and retailer of off-road Jeep and truck aftermarket accessories.

2017: Annual sales exceed $5 billion for the first time; and the company celebrated building its one-millionth RANGER. Polaris launches Polaris Adventures. Polaris introduces first single-seat youth vehicle, the Polaris ACE 150 EFI.

2018: Polaris acquires Boat Holdings, a privately held boat manufacturer of four recognized brands – Bennington, Godfrey, Hurricane, and Rinker. Polaris is named to the Fortune 500 list for the first time, making its debut at No. 496. Polaris introduces the RZR RS1.

2018: Polaris breaks ground on new multi-brand distribution center in Fernley, NV, which is scheduled to open in 2019.

2018: Addition Polaris acquisitions in 2018: WSI Industries in Monticello, Minnesota; assets from Larson boats; and Glamis Beach store and surrounding property.


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