Chris-Craft – A Brief History of the Classic Boat Builder From 1930 to the Present Day
Chris-Craft boats can trace its roots back to 1874 when Christopher Columbus Smith, age 13, built his first wooden boat for duck hunting. By 1930 Chris-Craft had become the world’s largest builder of mahogany powerboats. This second part of the brief history of the classic boat builder covers the period from 1930 to the present day.
The Great Depression of the 1930s caused Chris-Craft boat sales to decline significantly. The company had to produce a range of low-priced basic ‘runabout’ powerboats to stay in business.
During World War II, Chris-Craft built some 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 (6 June 1944), landing allied troops on the beaches in Normandy.
After the war, Chris-Craft expanded wooden boat production and introduced an all-new range of pleasure boats 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 just about every type of recreational pursuit on water.
The company sold their ‘top of the range’ wooden boats to famous 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 from the finest mahogany, but also were easy to operate. Amongst the “celebrities” of the day, owning a Chris-Craft became de rigueur. Lower-priced Chris-Craft boats were also of high quality, built using mahogany, teak and brass. The Chris-Craft brand became virtually synonymous with pleasure boating.
In 1955, Chris-Craft manufactured its first fiberglass boat and, in 1957, the company acquired a metal boat building division. The company continued to be independent until Shields & Company and National Automotive Fibers acquired it 1960.
The last wooden Chris-Craft boat was built in 1971: a 57-foot mahogany Constellation. This marked the end of the Chris-Craft wooden boat-building era. Chris-Craft had sold more than 100,000 boats to customers in America, 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 a number of corporate restructurings and changes in ownership. Today, Chris-Craft, Inc. 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 builds boats with wooden hulls, wood is still a significant feature in every new Chris-Craft boat.
Over the years, many prominent American families have owned Chris-Craft boats. Among them are the Fords, the Firestones, the Hearsts, the Morgans, the Sloans and the Vanderbilts. Two U.S. Presidents have owned Chris-Craft boats. Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy both used their boats to get away and relax with their families.
The Chris-Craft name and the distinctive look of the mahogany hulls have become such American icons that Chris-Craft boats are in demand for films and television shows. In recent years, Chris-Craft boats have 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: Impossible III, Fool’s Gold and The Proposal and in the television series The Sopranos.
Copyright 2010 Clive Goodhead