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Polaris founder David Johnson dies at age 93

Brad Dokken

Forum News Service

ROSEAU, Minn. — David Johnson, who co-founded Polaris Industries in 1954 and pieced together the company’s first snowmobile from a hodgepodge of parts in a Roseau machine shop, died Saturday at his home after an extended illness.

Karolyn Erickson Eastman, a family friend, confirmed Johnson’s passing late Saturday afternoon. He was 93.

Johnson, along with brothers Edgar and Allan Hetteen, started the Hetteen Hoist and Derrick company in Roseau in the mid-1940s, making straw choppers and other equipment.

They incorporated as Polaris Industries in 1954, taking the name from a sprayer they had purchased from a developer in North Dakota. Before snowmobiles became their flagship product, the Roseau entrepreneurs made everything from plowshares to garbage cans.

“We made anything that would give us a dollar,” Johnson said in a March 2015 Grand Forks Herald story. “We made quite a bit of machinery for the farmers. Anything we could get some money out of, we would do.”

An avid outdoorsman, Johnson said they built their first snowmobile in January 1956 as a way to enjoy the outdoors in winter. They assembled the machine from parts on hand in their shop, including roller chains for the track and a car bumper for skis.

“My story is we were lazy,” Johnson told the Herald. “We didn’t want to go on skis up to hunting camp or some of that. We just wanted to see if we could make a machine that would go in snow. We wanted to be able to get to the Northwest Angle and places like that because we were ‘Up North’ people who liked to hunt and fish and things like that.”

Funeral arrangement are pending. Look for a full obituary in the next couple of days.

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