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Famous Inventor
Joseph-Armand Bombardier - made first snowmobile prototype
Joseph-Armand Bombardier - made first snowmobile prototypeJoseph-Armand Bombardier (April 16, 1907 - February 18, 1964) was a Canadian inventor and businessman, and was the founder of Bombardier. He made his first snowmobile prototype when he was 15 years old.

Born by a large family of prosperous farmers and small shopkeepers in the small town of Valcourt, not too far from Sherbrooke, southeast of Montreal in the province of Quebec. Bombardier's brothers were later to help him out in several aspects of running what would eventually become a large mechanical engineering concern, leaving him free to concentrate on mechanical innovations and high-level corporate orientations. Later still his own sons and daughters were to be instrumental in making his company grow to international proportions.

Bombardier was largely self-taught, picking up mechanical engineering by fixing things, reading, and taking notes. He had a mechanical genius and a driving ambition to make the winter months as easy to navigate as the other ones. The first snowmobile of his teenage years was a small surface-skimming contraption with a propeller.

He started off small by opening a garage in Valcourt in 1926, fixing cars and selling gasoline in the three snow-free seasons of the year, and tinkering with his project of building a snowmobile during the snowbound winter. Before World War II and on through much of the 1940s the Quebec government did not plough the rural roads around Valcourt and elsewhere in the province. The inhabitants had to put away their cars and light trucks and resort to horse-drawn sleighs when heavy trucks were not available. The heavy snow made things difficult for family doctors or just about anybody who had urgent business to do in these areas, and Joseph-Armand Bombardier saw this as a challenge.

In 1937, after years of research and development, he started producing the B-7, an enclosed half-track machine with his patented caterpillar track and sprocket assembly in the back and skis in the front. Previous track systems were not suitable for the moist-snow conditions of Southern Quebec.

However, at the start of World War 2, the Canadian government issued war-time rationings, saying that citizens had to prove the purchase of a snowmobile was essential to their livelihood. This caused Bombardier's sales to drop.

In 1942 he incorporated his company and produced the B-12 machine, which could hold 12 passengers snugly and featured many improvements. The production of the B-12 went on for several decades and examples of it were still found running at the turn of the millennium in remote snowbound areas all over North America.

The decision of the Quebec government to plough country roads in the winter of 1949 cost Bombardier much of its local market for the B-12 and its variants. This led Joseph-Armand Bombardier to diversify into other off-terrain tracked vehicles, such as a heavy-duty Muskeg tractor meant for mining exploration and the forestry industries.

Dissatisfaction with suppliers of rubber track for the big Muskeg tractor led him to make his own, in a subsidiary operated by his son Germain. This in turn made it possible for him to produce a relatively small continuous rubber track for the light one- or two-person snowmobile he had dreamt of as a teenager. When small, reliable four-stroke engines appeared in the 1950s he had all the ingredients he needed in hand. He produced the first prototype of the snowmobile in 1958 and started production in 1959. Sales were slow in the first years since the mass consumer market was very different from his usual industrial and commercial customer base. When he died in 1964, snowmobiles had gone from sales of 200 a year to 8200, spurring several factory expansions. In 2000, Joseph-Armand Bombardier was honoured by the government of Canada with his image on a postage stamp.

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