Joseph Armand Bombardier

Photo of Joseph Armand Bombardier
Joseph-Armand Bombardier was a mechanic who dreamed of building a vehicle that could 'float on snow'. In 1937, the first snowmobile was made in his small repair shop in Valcourt, Quebec.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier's breakthrough came in the mid-1930s when he developed a drive system that would revolutionise travel in snow and swamp. In 1937, Armand sold 12 snowmobiles—named the B7—and in 1942 opened the company l'Auto-Neige Bombardier Limitée.

The first snowmobiles were large, multi-passenger vehicles designed to help people get around during the long winter months. Snowmobiles were used in rural Quebec to take children to school, to carry freight, to deliver mail, and as ambulances. His invention served a very real necessity and soon business was booming. In 1941, Armand opened a large new factory in Valcourt. Then a major setback hit the growing business: the Second World War was well underway and the Canadian government issued wartime rationing regulations. Bombardier customers had to prove that snowmobiles were essential to their livelihood in order to buy one. To keep his business going, Armand switched gears and developed vehicles for the military. After the war, Armand experienced another setback in his snowmobile business. In 1948 the Quebec government passed a law requiring all highways and local roads to be cleared of snow; Bombardier's sales fell by nearly half in one year. Armand decided to diversify his business and make all-terrain vehicles for the mining, oil, and forestry industries.