The History of Northern Lights, Inc.
In 1958 Harold Johnson established Alaska Marine Sales and Service in Anchorage, Alaska selling boats and marine related products. A true adventurer, Johnson left his home in North Carolina as a teenager, making his way up to Seward, Alaska by steamship. After serving in the US Marine Corps during World War II, he returned to the Alaska bush to become a big game hunting guide, wildlife photographer and gunsmith. Starting a boat selling business was a natural outgrowth of building and repairing his own boats.
The short boating season in Alaska led the company to look for additional sources of revenue. As pioneers in the snowmobile business the company was the first to sell the machines to Alaskans. Land-based generator sets were added to the company offerings to answer the need for prime power in remote, off-grid areas.
The first steps were taken toward establishing brand name products in the early 1960’s when the company began packaging Lister air-cooled diesels and Lima generators. Alaska Marine and Lister/Lima became the standard all over Alaska’s outback.
By the late 60s the company had became well known for its ability to customize land-based generator sets. The trade name Northern Lights was coined and the company name was changed to Alaska Marine & Equipment to emphasize the equipment side of the business.
Contracts with the State of Alaska for electrification of rural schools and villages as well as the development of advanced unattended power systems for microwave stations strengthened the company. Contracts for powering communication sites along the Alaska Pipeline came as a result of the reputation the company had gained for specializing in self-contained unattended cold weather power systems.
Johnson moved his company headquarters to Seattle, Washington in 1970. In the mid-70s he began to develop his own brand name marine products. A new company was formed under the name Alaska Diesel Electric Inc. (ADE) The new company was responsible for production of the land-based Northern Lights generator sets which were being sold in Alaska and on the West Coast.
In 1975 development of the first Lugger propulsion engines began based on a John Deere block. Although the primary objective was to develop propulsion engines the company soon found growth in the marine generator set market. The need for a high quality small marine diesel generator was obvious. Lacking a small American-made diesel, ADE worked with Japan’s Ishikawajima-Shibaura Machinery (ISM) Company and developed an entire line of small marine diesels to power sets from 5 to 20 kW.
In the early 1980s the company began designing and manufacturing propulsion engines and marine generator sets based on the same Komatsu industrial blocks which ADE had already used in land-based generators. Expanding into the larger engines and generator sets gave the company unlimited international market potential.
The 1990s saw a growing market for the high quality Northern Lights products — megayachts. The skippers and owners of these vessels would not compromise on quality. With Northern Lights’ track record of reliable, durable systems, they became the obvious choice for the large pleasure craft owner.
The advent of a new millennium saw new technologies and greater demands on generator sets than ever before. By the year 2000 Northern Lights had become a recognized worldwide leader in power production. Environmental and space-saving considerations led to a number of innovative products and solutions, including DECS Diesel Emission Cleaning System, PTO-capability on most units and fully electronic engines.
With innovation came growth. In 2003, ADE became officially known as Northern Lights, Inc. to best capitalize on the worldwide cache of the company’s brand name.
Northern Lights’ line of 5-40kW generator sets feature auxiliary winding (“W” Series) for increased short circuit protection. Northern Lights Marine Generator Sets achieved USEPA Tier III compliance a full year before it became required. In 2010, Northern Lights became ISO 9001 certified through Lloyd Register Quality Assurance.
In 2007 Northern Lights purchased Technicold. The Florida-based manufacturer of marine climate systems represented Northern Lights’ first venture outside of the realm of energy production or propulsion. Technicold’s reputation for outstanding design customization and service made it the ideal fit to partner with Northern Lights.
Today Northern Lights has branch offices in South Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and New England as well as a global dealer servicing network over 350 strong. The name “Northern Lights” is synonymous with reliable durable and simple to use marine products. Not bad for a little company founded half a century ago on one man’s vision in rustic Alaska…