In 1882, when he was five years old, Ole Evinrude emigrated with his family from Norway to Wisconsin. In 1900, Evinrude co-founded the custom engine firm Clemick & Evinrude

In 1907 Ole Evinrude founded the Evinrude Motor Co. in Milwaukee, WI and started producing Outboard motors. In 1919, Evinrude invented a more efficient and lighter two-cylinder motor. Having sold his part in Clemick & Evinrude, he founded the Elto Outboard Motor Company (The Elto name was an acronym for "Evinrude Light Twin Outboard"). In 1929 Evinrude and Stephen Briggs of the gasoline engine company Briggs & Stratton created the Outboard Motors Corp. or OMC, which became the world leader in this field. In 1935, just after Ole Evinrude passed away and was succeeded by his son Ralph, OMC purchased the assets of the bankrupt Johnson Bros. Motor Co., an Indiana company that had built a new marine plant in Waukegan just before the Great Depression. For the rest of the century, the company would manufacture such well-known marine products as Evinrude & Johnson marine motors In 1936, when it employed a total of about 1,000 people, Ole Evinrude's company changed its name to Outboard Marine & Manufacturing Co.; 20 years later, it became Outboard Marine Corp. (OMC).

After serving as a military contractor during World War II, the company turned back toward civilian markets. By the beginning of the 1990s, when OMC was the nation's second leading manufacturer of boats (the Chicago-based Brunswick Corp. was the leader), the company was losing money and cutting jobs. A highly leveraged acquisition of OMC accelerated the company's decline. Burdened by heavy debt, OMC declared bankruptcy in late 2000. A Montreal sporting goods retailer purchased the Evinrude & Johnson motors division, but the Waukegan plant relocated to Wisconsin. As the remainders of OMC’s assets were sold off to various buyers, plants around the country either closed or downsized, throwing thousands out of work.