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The Thrilling Journey of Polaris Industries: From Snowmobiles to Global Powersports | 70 Years in 2024

For 70 Years Polaris Industries forged the way from snowmobiles design to global powersports

Celebrating the Polaris70th Anniversary

Where it all began in 1954

1954 where it all began

Table of Contents

Nestled in the heart of Roseau, Minnesota, a small town with a big legacy, lies the birthplace of snowmobiling and the iconic Polaris Industries. This is where the roar of engines meets the pristine snow, and where innovation has carved a path through the frozen wilderness. Let’s embark on a captivating journey through time, tracing the remarkable history of Polaris back 70 years as we celebrate their anniversary.

The Birth of Snowmobiling - The Early Days

In the frosty winter in 1954, three visionaries – David Johnson, Edgar and Allen Hetteen – joined forces in their garage in rural Roseau. Their mission? To create a machine that could glide effortlessly over snow-covered landscapes of the most northern part of Minnesota little did they know that their creation would revolutionize winter recreation and develop into a Fortune 500 company.


The First Snowmobile

red sled

"We were pretty much outdoors people, and we did quite a bit of hunting in the Northwest Angle for all kinds of game. We had a lot of snow in some of those winters, so you had to go on snowshoes or walk or whatever. So, I used to tell people that we were lazy, we didn’t want to walk, so we thought of something to ride.” David Johnson told Snow on October 9, 2013

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On January 11, 1956, David Johnson’s snowmobile took its first test run. This moment marked the birth of Polaris Industries. The rest as they say, is history. David was an avid hunter and outdoorsman. His family had a remote cabin in the northernmost region of the continental USA known as the Northwest Angle Inlet. David was searching for a way to easily bring supplies to camp. His idea was a machine with skis that you glide across the snow and the frozen waters of Lake of the Woods. The men had the vision and the skills to design, develop, and manufacture the motorized sled in their business, Hetteen, Hoist and Derrick. 

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Racing Glory|The Midnight Blue Express-Rosco Racing

Snowmobile racing gained popularity in the late 1960’s. Polaris stepped onto the track with fierce determination. Their factory racing team, known as the Midnight Blue Express, became legendary.  Drivers like Steve Thorson, Brad Hullings, and Jerry Bunke. Polaris would say that the first racer was actually David Johnson.  Other Roseau men who made their name on the track were Robert Eastman, Jim Bernet (Smiling JIm), and Robert Przekwas. Polaris used racing as a way to develop and fine-tune their machines.

Co-Founder Allan Hetteen always felt a race program would advance the development of the snowmobile, which in turn would help increase sales of the product. He passionately believed his new company, Rosco, Inc., would also benefit from a racing team. Thus, the Rosco Race Team was formed. 

These riders knew every bolt and belt on these machines. They knew the sounds of the engine and how to get the machine to perform. They pushed the limits, thrilling fans with their legendary high-speed antics. Tragedy struck on February 26, 1978, when Jerry Bunke lost his life in a race accident. The sport was evolving, and Polaris was at the forefront, shaping the future of snowmobiling. 

"Polaris Racing didn't start until #2 was built."

Allen Hetteen

From Snowmobiles to All-Terrain Dominance

Polaris Gallery of People and Products

While snowmobiles remain close to Polaris’ heart, the company has diversified. Today, they produce more All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) than snowmobiles. Their assembly plant in Roseau hums with activity, where snowmobiles and ATVs come to life. Visitors can witness the magic firsthand by taking a plant tour, marveling at the craftsmanship that goes into each machine.

Things have changed but the passion and mission has not:  In 2022 Sales hit $8.6 Billion, Polaris is present in 120 countries, employs 16,000 people globally, and is a Fortune 500 Company.  They are  70 years strong and the future has no limit.

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The Polaris Experience -The People - The Plant- The Product

A Journey Through Time and History at the Roseau Manufacturing Plant -1960-70s

Polaris -Roseau Engineering, Development and Manufacturing Today

For 70 Years- A Milestone Celebration

In 2024, Polaris will celebrate its 70th anniversary. From that humble garage in Roseau, the company has soared to the Fortune 500 status. This rocketship ride involved development, manufacturing, racing, and engineering. Riding legends like Bob Pzakwas and Jim Bernat still call Roseau home, their stories echoing the thrill of the ride.

To learn more about the history of Polaris, visit the Polaris Experience Center. The museum is free to the public and houses some amazing memorabilia from across 7 decades. You can also schedule a plant tour to see the manufacturing of a sled or ATV.Follow the process from design to crating. 

polaris Experience Center

 It was clear that Polaris had a story to tell and needed a place to share it. If you are a history buff, you owe it to yourself to stop by the experience center and see how the Polaris Experience Museum was crafted.

The Polaris 70th Anniversary Celebration

On August 16-18, 2024, Roseau will host a grand celebration, commemorating seven decades of Polaris excellence. From the shop floor to the global stage, Polaris invites riders and Powersports enthusiasts to the city where it all began. Come celebrate the spirit of adventure, and honor the legacy of Polaris.

Experience Center Museum

Join the 70th Anniversary Celebration Countdown
Roseau, MN

Polaris 70th Anniversary

Save the Date and Invitation "Come and join us in celebrating all that is Polaris in the town with a big heart and where it all began seven decades ago. Roseau is gearing up for a great time! We hope to see you there."

Don’t forget to save the date and book your lodging today. Roseau offers two hotels The Norland and the AmericInn.

Or consider staying at our newest Airbnb.

Join in the World Records ride on August 18.  All hotels have free trailer space.

Photo Credit: Carmen and Robert Przekwas, Polaris Archives All Rights Reserved