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The Waterman outboard engine appears to be the first real gasoline-powered outboard offered for sale. Developed by Cameron Waterman, a young Yale Engineering student, it was developed from 1903, with a patent application filed in 1905. Starting in 1906, the company went on to make thousands of his “Porto-Motor” units, claiming 25,000 sales by 1914. The inboard boat motor firm of Caille Motor Company of Detroit were instrumental in making the cylinder and engines. Arrow Motor & Machine Co. purchased Waterman in 1917.

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Yachting August 1914 Waterman Outboard Ad

Yachting August 1914 Waterman Outboard Ad


Cameron B. Waterman with his prototype outboard motor. Photo courtesy of Grosse Ile Historical Society

Cameron B. Waterman with his prototype outboard motor. Photo courtesy of Grosse Ile Historical Society

The Original Outboard Motor By Bob Zipps

A few months ago while I was at an antique show, I was going by a booth which had a pile of old magazines on the table.  The magazine on top of the pile caught my eye because there was a picture of a horizontal cylinder Waterman on the back cover.  It was actually a full page ad for Waterman.  The picture is in full color and shows two fishermen motoring home in a rowboat after a fine days fishing.  I picked up the magazine and studied the ad, and then turned the magazine over to see what the name of the publication was.  To my surprise, the same photo that was on the back cover was also on the front cover.  The name of the magazine is the “National Sportsman” and it stated that it was the “Special Boating Issue.”  The date is April, 1916.  I thumbed through the magazine and it had a lot of great ads, but the real surprise was an article titled “A Few Words About The Original Outboard Motor”.  I looked to see who the author was, and it was a real shocker.  The article was written by C.B. Waterman.  Needless to say I bought the issue.  What a stroke of luck that this particular issue would be on top of a pile of magazines that I never would have gone through.  Here is that article.

Front cover of the April 1916 issue of the National Sportsman. Note that it is the Special Boating Issue.

Front cover of the April 1916 issue of the National Sportsman. Note that it is the Special Boating Issue.

“The first germ of the portable marine motor idea came to me in the year 1903 while I was a law student at New Haven.  That was the year when motor-cycles first came out, and I was among the first to procure one.  After the fashion of those early vehicles, my motor-cycle refused to work properly one day, so I lugged it up to my room to examine it and discovered the cause of the trouble.

While taking it apart and overhauling it, the idea occurred to me that such a motor might possibly be used on my rowboat when I went on fishing trips.  Every summer I spent a part of my vacation at Spruce Harbor on the north shore of Lake Superior, and from there I had a very strenuous row of about five miles to my favorite fishing grounds.  It seemed to me that if this motor would run a bicycle, a similar motor could be rigged up with a propeller and rudder to run my rowboat.

For the next three years or so, I experimented during every spare moment with this idea.  My friends laughed at my tinkerings.  The scheme seemed utterly ridiculous to them.  But I kept working against what they considered insurmountable odds, and I admit it was not such a simple scheme as your might imagine nowadays.  At that time internal combustion engines of any kind were still very crude affairs – they were far from being in their present highly developed state.  But I was positive that I had a practical idea.  So I persevered, and after continual experimenting and countless disappointments my dream became a reality.  My motor worked.

One bright summer day in the year 1906 my father and I took the first trip in our good old rowboat operated by the very first portable outboard motor, towing behind us another boat carrying the members of the party.  We made the five mile trip in about 35 minutes, breaking all rowboat records.

That same year, realizing that my idea was practical, we started a factory and began putting the Waterman Porto Motor on the market.  Of course, it was heralded with a great deal of skepticism at first.  Engine-makers, in particular, looked upon this new invention as a mere “joke.”  The first four of five years were filled with hardships.  Manufacturing difficulties had to be faced and fought, the public had to be educated to the value and usefulness of this new device, the ridicule of doubters had to be overcome.  But each year, the sales came in bigger and bigger, each year the motor itself was improved and perfected, each year prospects looked brighter and more encouraging.

Engine-makers now began to realize the actual value of the portable motor – the need for it – the big demand – the vast possibilities.  A host of competitors sprang up overnight, as it were.  But the Waterman Porto had had a five years start – five years in which to test the motor in actual use, not merely in laboratories – five years to find out just how to meet every possible contingency – five years in which to perfect every detail.

From the first I have been satisfied only with the very best, never subordinating quality for profits.  I have built my motor to give real service at all times, under any conditions and in any environment, and it still stands as the motor that lasts a lifetime.  Then, too, it has always been my firm policy to keep abreast with the latest advances in engineering science, and I have never hesitated to adopt new improvements from automobile and aeroplane motor designs.  As a result, the Waterman Porto still continues at the very top in the field of portable marine motors.”

This article substantiates my previous conclusion that the Waterman Outboard Motor was in production in 1906.  Previously, 1907 was thought to be when Waterman went into production, but now it is known that 1907 was the first full year of production.

One thing that bothered me about the Waterman article was the mention of a rudder in the last sentence of the second paragraph.  Waterman wrote, “It seemed to me that if this motor would run a bicycle, a similar motor could be rigged up with a propeller and rudder, and used to run my rowboat.”  Of course, Waterman’s first motor did not have a rudder.  The Waterman Outboards that were being made at the time the article was written had a rudder.  It gives you the impression that Waterman really didn’t write this article.  Other alternatives are that, Waterman my have not recalled the details correctly, or that the term rudder was being used loosely.  Researching the latter alternative, I checked the 1907 Waterman Catalog and it says, “Also note Starting Crank and Bottom Clamp in which the motor pivots, allowing Motor to swing from side to side, forming his own rudder.”  It is possible that when Waterman was dreaming up his motor, he considered his whole motor the rudder.  It certainly has a tiller like a sail boat rudder and it pivots and is supported like a sailboat rudder.  I have to believe that is what Waterman meant in his article.  See you in the next issue of the Antique Outboarder.

More from The Antique Outboard Motor Club

Specifications for Waterman
2-Stroke Cycle Gasoline Marine Engines

Click on Links for Model Pages with Spec Sheets, Manuals, etc.

CYL = Cylinder Configuration-Number-Liner: IL = In-Line, H = Horizontal, P = Parent Bore
ASP: NA = Naturally Aspirated
KW = Kilowatts: NR = Not Rated
HP = Horsepower: NR = Not Rated
MHP = Metric Horsepower: NR = Not Rated
@RPM = Power Ratings @ Revolutions Per Minute

Porto H-1-P? ?mm ?mm ?in ?in ?L / ?ci
1 cyl NA ? 3? ? 1200? 1906~19??

Porto H-1-P? ?mm ?mm ?in ?in ?L / ?ci
1 cyl NA ? 2.5 ? 1200? 19??~1917?

Porto H-2-P? ?mm ?mm 2.25in 2.5in ?L / ?ci
2 cyl NA ? 4 ? 1000 190?~1917?
Table is under development
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Contact Information

Waterman Marine Motor Co. >Purchased by Arrow Motor & Machine Co. in 1917
1503 Fort St. W.
1506 Fort St. W.
403 Mt. Elliott Ave.

Detroit, Michigan

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