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Chris-Craft – A Brief History of the Classic Boat Builder From 1930 to the Present Day
Chris-Craft boats can trace their origins back to 1874 when Christopher Columbus Smith, age 13, built the first wooden boat for duck hunting. By 1930 Chris-Craft had become the world’s largest builder of mahogany powerboats. This second part of a brief history of the classic boat builder covers the period from the 1930s to the present day.
The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a significant decline in Chris-Craft boat sales. To stay in business the company had to produce a range of low cost basic ‘runabout’ powerboats.
During World War II, Chris-Craft produced about 12,000 small patrol boats, utility launches, and rescue vehicles for the United States Navy and Army. Some Chris Craft boats saw service on D-Day (June 6, 1944) landing Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy.
After the war, Chris-Craft expanded production of wooden boats and introduced an all-new range of pleasure yachts just in time for the American consumer boom of the 1950s. Chris Craft had wooden boats (at one time the company had 159 different models) for every type of recreation on the water.
The company sold their ‘top of the range’ wooden boats to celebrity customers and Hollywood stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Chris-Craft boats were not only the best available, made of the finest mahogany, but also easy to manoeuvre. In today’s “celebrity,” owning a Chris-Craft has become de rigueur. Even the less expensive Chris-Craft boats were of high quality, built using mahogany, teak, and brass. The Chris-Craft brand became virtually synonymous with pleasure boating.
In 1955, Chris-Craft built its first fiberglass boat, and in 1957, the company acquired the metal boat building division. The company remained independent until it was acquired by Shields & Company and National Automotive Fibers in 1960.
The last wooden Chris-Craft boat was built in 1971: the 57-foot mahogany Constellation. This marked the end of the Chris-Craft wooden boat-building era. Chris-Craft sold more than 100,000 boats to customers in the United States, Great Britain, Italy, France and many other countries. Many of these Chris-Craft boats are still in use today.
Since the 1970s, Chris-Craft has undergone several corporate restructurings and ownership changes. Today, Chris-Craft, Inc. It is a privately held company based in Sarasota, Florida. Chris-Craft, Inc. Currently offers sixteen models of runabouts, center consoles and express cruisers ranging from 20 to 43 feet. Although, the company no longer makes boats with wooden hulls, wood is still a prominent feature in every new Chris-Craft boat.
Over the years, many prominent American families have owned Chris-Craft boats. Among them are the Fords, Firestones, Hearsts, Morgans, Sloans and Vanderbilts. Two US presidents have owned Chris-Craft boats. Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Both Kennedys used their boats to relax with their families.
The Chris-Craft name and the distinctive look of the mahogany hull have become such an American icon that Chris-Craft boats are in demand for movies and television shows. In recent years, Chris-Craft boats have been featured in many films, including House Boat, Donavan’s Reef, Back to School, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Godfather II, On Golden Pond, The Dirty Dozen, Striking Distance, Pearl Harbor, Mission. : In the television series Impossible III, Fool’s Gold and The Proposal and The Sopranos.
Copyright 2010 Clive Goodhead
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