The Simplicity “Air-Conditioned Lawnmower” 1957

Samuel Chase
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Simplicity’s Air-Conditioned Lawnmower

We posted a picture of this “air-conditioned lawnmower” the other day on Facebook. I have to say, the reaction was quite unbelievable.

Now…. Don’t get me wrong, bein’ from the South, if it don’t say John Deere on the side, it ain’t a real tractor, in a southerners’ humble opinion. I just thought it was a cool picture. But, so many of you started askin’ questions —- I took it upon myself to learn more about the company behind this phenomenal machine.

Simplicity’s Air-Conditioned Lawnmower

This futuristic “Air-Conditioned Lawnmower” was built by the Simplicity Manufacturing Company, a U.S. company founded in 1922 by William J. Niederkorn. They built the contraption in 1957 and called it the Wonderboy X-100. The mower was featured on the 1958 cover of Mechanix Illustrated and was clearly well ahead of its time.

The X-100, while not practical for the everyday lawn, was the flagship machine of Simplicity’s first offering of riding lawnmowers to the public. Simplicity promotional advertising at the time described the futuristic machine this way:

The “Power Mower of the Future” as demonstrated in Port Washington, Wisconsin, Oct 14, 1957. The lawnmower has a five-foot diameter plastic sphere in which the rider sits on an air foam cushioned seat. It has its own electric generating system for operating running lights, a radio telephone, air conditioning and even a cooling system to provide a chilled drink on a hot day. It can be used for many purposes. It can mow the lawn, weed it, feed it, seed it, spray for insects, plow snow and haul equipment. It can even be used as a golf cart.

Simply put, it was a promotional gimmick —-

During World War II, Simplicity temporarily halted the production of lawn and garden equipment to build electric fence products and surface grinders to satisfy the War Production Board. They got back to buildin’ garden equipment after the war.

Then I learnt that Simplicity was a major manufacturer of lawn tractors, not only under their name, but under others too. Some of those included, Homelite, Viking, Massey Ferguson and Snapper. Simplicity bought Snapper in 2002 and there’s a right interestin’ story about that purchase involving Wal-Mart.

Seems that Simplicity CEO, Jim Weir, didn’t think there was much of a future with Wal-Mart. And Weir told Wal-Mart executives (from an article by Charles Fishman):

“Now, at the price I’m selling to you today, I’m not making any money on it. And if we do what you want next year, I’ll lose money. I could do that and not go out of business. But we have this independent-dealer channel. And 80% of our business is over here with them. And I can’t put them at a competitive disadvantage. If I do that, I lose everything. So, this just isn’t a compatible fit.”

While Wal-Mart executives tried to talk him out of pulling Snapper products out of their stores, Weir stuck to his guns, despite the fact that he immediately lost 20% of his business by doing so. “But when we told the (independent) dealers that they would no longer find Snapper in Wal-Mart, they were very pleased with that decision. And I think we got most of that business back by winning the hearts of the dealers,” said Weir.

Makin’ the right decisions sometimes ain’t easy. But hearin’ Weir tell Wal-Mart they just weren’t a compatible fit….. made this southerner seriously think ‘bout becomin’ a “Simplicity Man.”

In 2004, Briggs & Stratton, who had a very long-term relationship with Simplicity, bought the company. However, the aforementioned CEO of Simplicity and Snapper, Jim Weir, remained the CEO of both companies until he left to join a private equity firm, Kholberg and Company.

And that’s all I know about the “air-conditioned lawnmower” you saw pictured. Thanks for readin’ ……. and come back again.


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