There's Keystone in every Great invention

How World War I Tank-Treads Led to the Invention of the Snowmobile

March 1, 2013

There’s a keystone in every great invention.

Joseph Armand-Bombardier was born in 1907 in a small village in Quebec, QC. His birth took place during a rare April blizzard. If you lived far enough from the big city like the Bombardiers did, winter had a nasty habit of making simple cross-country feel a bit like “Arctic Exploration.” With roads not commonly plowed in that era, individuals were left to your own means of transport – simple things like sleighs and sledges were still the best mode of getting from point A to point B in snowy weather.

During the long, snowbound months on his farm, young Joseph became fascinated with the fundamentals of mechanical design. The legend goes that he convinced a local veterinarian to loan him an old, derelict 12-pound cannon from the 1860s, then proceeded within a week to reinvent it into a modern mini-cannon.

SnowmobileHowever, it was in 1916, when Bombardier was about nine years old, that the British Army introduced the concept of tanks into the midst of World War I. These giant, ironclad “battleships on treads” were immune to the machine-gun fire of the enemy. Like most people around him, Bombardier regarded the latest developments in France with fascination. One of the things that fascinated him the most were treads on the British tanks; how these monstrous rotating belts allowed a tank to navigate across the snowy or often muddy, overturned earth of a battlefield.

Given all that, it didn’t take Bombardier long to see how treads could be useful in the context of a Canadian winter. His work took 10 years, but in the end, his perseverance triumphed: the young Canadian patented his first invention, a sprocket wheel system that ran on rubber treads linked by steel cross bars. It was a set of wheels powerful and resilient enough to travel cross-country at a reasonable clip.

World War One was one of the most terrible conflicts in human history, without argument. Likewise, no one can argue that it was the proving ground for some of the most important inventions of the 20th century. Little did they know it, but the soldiers who drove tanks through No Man’s Land in France were a decisive inspiration for a young French-Canadian inventor to begin work on a means of travel through the wastes and wilds of the great North.

Today, Bombardier is one of Canada’s most innovative vehicular companies. In addition to producing snowmobiles, it also designs and manufactures luxury aerospace name-brands like the Learjet. One of the main mottos of the company is “The Evolution of Mobility.” We can’t help but think that the young Bombardier would have heartily approved the slogan. He took a means of military travel and turned it into a peaceful, utilitarian tool for anyone to use; he took a single element of a war machine and created entirely new mode of transportation. Keystone has been making electronic components like LED spacers and lens caps, spacers and standoffs, brackets, and quick fit terminals that can be found in these snow machines or snow mobiles. And in this particular case, it was what was on the outside of this invention that made it count.