I know what you’re thinking and the answer is yes, this bizarre looking contraption really is the great grand daddy of that Snapper Zero Turn you ride around your yard all summer.
A visit to the home page of snapper.com boasts that snapper was the builder of the industry’s first self propelled rotary lawn mower in 1951 but provides little else in the way of history for their product. One would hope that a Corporation as big as Briggs and Stratton could afford to provide a little more but in this era of bean counter business administration I guess that’s asking too much. From this point on the picture only gets murkyer.
Wikipedia offers the most complete story I’ve found on the Snapper mowers but contradictions crop up here and there. The mower was manufactured in McDonough, Ga. located about forty miles south of Atlanta under the brand name Snappin Turtle in the early 1950’s. William Raymond Smith, a lifelong resident of McDonough bought the McDonough Power Company in the 1940’s and shifted production from products for the lumber industry to manufacturing lawn mowers for the rapidly growing suburban market. The Wikipedia account credits W. R. Smith with patenting the mowing blade used in the mower, but one of the sources, an article that appeared in the New York Times on July 21, 2003 states that he acquired the patent from two Florida residents, Neal and Alex Smith who shared his name but were not relatives.
Surf on over to the Nostalgia Ranch ( www.nostalgiaranch.com ) to check out an ad for Snappin Turtle Week, April 7 to 14, 1956 “The Premiere of America’s finest mower”. Here another question arises, are these well dressed turtles telling us that production began in 1956 rather than 1951? Whatever the case it’s an interesting period advertisement. Among the tidbits of information it offers: four models were produced, 19” and 25” with 2 to 6 hp engines, “Just guide, it glides”, “No wheels, follows contours, can’t scalp”, “Self propelled to climb banks”, “Fingertip control and power reverse”, “ Pulls sulky and other implements”. On that last note, while you’re visiting the ranch be sure to watch the video of a Snappin Turtle pulling the operator on one of those sulkies. It’s a surprisingly agile rig.
William R. Smith served as President and CEO of the company from the late 1940’s until 1979. In 2002 Snapper was acquired by Simplicity Manufacturing which brings us to one last resource you might want to check out: https://www.fastcompany.com/54763/man-who-said-no-walmart an interesting account of how and why the CEO of Simplicity turned down distribution of Snapper products by WalMart. It’s an entertaining read. As things turned out he could have saved himself the trouble. In 2004 Simplicity was acquired by Briggs and Stratton. If you visit the Snapper web site today you’ll find WalMart listed prominently among the retailers. Moral of story: You can say no to WalMart but that doesn’t mean WalMart will take no for an answer.
Special thanks to Kirk Kahler for bringing his Snappin Turtle to the C.A.P.A. 2016 Expo.