Heli-Bout: Boating George Jetson-Style

Brook Stevens’ Heli-Bout on display at Tavern on the Green, January 9, 1961. Negative # 1984.187.168025F

Brook Stevens, industrial designer, was responsible for the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, the wide-mouth peanut butter jar, the Miller Brewing logo, and the Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide.

“He did everything from cigarette lighters to pavement rippers,” said Gary Wolfe, curator of the Brooks Stevens Gallery of Industrial Design at the Milwaukee Institute of Art Design, in Stevens’ The New York Times obituary. He worked for more than 500 clients, designing for Briggs & Stratton, Volkswagen, and Evinrude.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Envinrude worked with Stevens to design concept vessels to market Evinrude’s new outboard motors for the National Motor Boat Show. The prototype boats were considered “conversation pieces.” In 1956 the first Stevens concept boat was introduced. It was the most expensive runabout at the time at $11,000 and called the Envinrude Lark equipped with a 30 h.p. Evinrude outboard capable of 30 mph. At the 1957 boat show, a circular boat that The New York Times called a “tub” and Evinrude called “The Fisherman,” was introduced. It was a rudderless boat that was steered and powered by two outboard motors. In 1959 it was a 28-foot houseboat combining the features of a catamaran and extra units could be added. Each year during the ’60’s, Boat Show enthusiasts would begin the guessing game as quoted in January 1962 Motor Boating: “Does it snorkel, fly, gyrate, pulsate or ambulate? And with what? Fins, wheels or keels?”

Pictured here is the 1961 Brook Stevens concept boat called the Heli-Bout – a 16-foot runabout combined with the principle of a helicopter. The outboard was a 75 h.p. Evinrude Starflite linked to a rotor by flexible shafting and reduction gears. The image was made during the Ole Envinrude Award (awarded to Rep. Herbert C. Bonner of North Carolina – the author of the Federal Boating Act of 1958) at Tavern on the Green to kick-off the 1961 National Motor Boat Show in New York City. Later that year the Heli-Bout was exhibited at a boat show in Seattle with Enos, the astro-chimp, at the controls. Enos was the second chimp launched into space by NASA. Popular Science reported in April 1962, “Theoretically, its owner could take off with a passenger from his back yard and land on his favorite lake,” and then added, “No flight test yet.”

In 2003, the Milwaukee Art Museum featured Heli-Bout in the exhibition Industrial Strength Design: How Brook Stevens Shaped Your World. It was reported, “The exhibition is an appealing blend of the nostalgic, the familiar and futuristic and provides a compelling retrospective of the evolution of American popular and material culture from the 1930’s to the ’70’s.”

— Carol Mowrey