Polaris, Arctic Cat Founder Hetteen Dies at 90

The Minnesota native and cofounder of Polaris, Arctic Cat, and ASV, died in Grand Rapids on Saturday.

Edgar E. Hetteen, often called the “grandfather of snowmobiling,” died on Saturday.

Hetteen's death was reported by the Rowe Funeral Home in Grand Rapids, the town where he had been living.

Hetteen, who was 90 years old, is perhaps best known for founding the companies that became Polaris Industries, Inc., and Arctic Cat, Inc.

“Edgar was an icon, a snowmobile pioneer and visionary who helped grow a seed of a sport and industry into a thriving pursuit and business that people love worldwide,” Polaris President and Chief Operating Officer Bennett Morgan said in a statement. “He was an inspiration to generations of Polaris employees who admired his desire for innovation, and the way he enjoyed interacting with the people involved in snowmobiling.”

Hetteen was born in 1920 to first-generation Swedish immigrants in Roseau, where he grew up and attended school. Armed with an eighth-grade education earned in a one-room schoolhouse, he described himself as a “farm kid” who always liked to tinker with machines.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, after which he returned to Roseau, according to his obituary.

In 1944, he founded Polaris, a company that made farm implements and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)-and, later, snowmobiles.

In 1960, Hetteen set out on a legendary 1,200-mile trip across Alaska to prove the abilities of his company's state-of-the-art snowmobiles. Soon after, he returned to Minnesota and left his position at Polaris.

In 1961, Hetteen founded Arctic Enterprises in Thief River Falls with a borrowed $10,000. He later sold the company, which is now called Arctic Cat, Inc., in 1965.

But the story doesn't stop there-or even slow down. Hetteen and cofounder Gary Lemke started ASV, Inc., in Marcell in 1983. The company sells skid-steer vehicles like Bobcats and small tractors-and it was named the 14th-best small company in America by Forbes in 1998.

Hetteen was inducted into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in 1990. An online profile of Hetteen on the Hall of Fame Web site describes him as “a relentless idea man”-whose innovations led to many important features of the sport.

In 1999, Hetteen was inducted into Twin Cities Business' Minnesota Business Hall of Fame.

Hetteen's legacy lives on in two of Minnesota's largest public companies. Medina-based Polaris is now among Minnesota's 30-largest public companies based on its revenue, which totaled $1.57 billion in 2009. The company's 2010 revenue totaled $1.99 billion.

Arctic Cat, headquartered in Thief River Falls, is also one of the state's 50-largest largest public companies. It reported $350.9 million in revenue for its most recently completed fiscal year.