When your average person thinks of a classic wooden boat or perhaps sees your beautiful classic out on the water they're likely to think of one name "Chris-Craft". The brand has become synonymous with wooden boating and classic boating in general. Today I thought I would write a quick blurb on the history of Chris-Craft as well as look into it's incredible 147 year run so far! I love history and I truly believe we must preserve this information so that in another 150 years it's available for the next generation to keep these amazing boats out on the water.
The name Chris-Craft comes from it's founder Christopher Columbus Smith who was born in 1861 in Algonac Michigan. He built his first boat at the age of 13 in 1874. He initially started working on a type of hull known as a punt or skiff. These boats are a flat bottom design typically featuring a square bow and are traditionally used in rivers and inland waters as they preform well in shallow waters. As demand for the boats grew and his reputation increased Chris began building boats fulltime and brought his brother Hank into the business.
Chris Smith Test driving a pre-war Chris-Craft
In 1910 the company was officially formed - initially called the Smith Ryan Boat Company this was changed in 1922 to "Chris Smith & Sons Boat Company" which became the great family owned business which would prosper for the coming decades. The man responsible for this was Chris' son Jay Smith who would be at the helm of the company for the next 3 decades. Despite various ups and downs such as two wars and the great depression Chris-Craft would persevere. During the Great Depression the company scaled back their designs to stay afloat - a 16' utility could be bought for just over $400 in 1935. During the Second World War they built patrol boats and Launches for for the US Navy.
Pre-war Chris-Craft Factory Worker - Fitting 1 of 3000+ plugs.
Following the war Chris-Craft went through massive expansion and entered what many say was the "golden era" of the company. They brought many manufacturing advances from wartime production which allowed them to expand their output to keep with rising demand for post-war boats. The manufacturing process changed drastically - with the boats and materials being chosen for assembly line production. With that said the boats were still really well equipped with high quality Mahogany, beautifully appointed interiors, lots of chrome plated bronze and great Engines.
1948 Chris-Craft 22' Utility - Decking, Windshield and Chrome Hardware
Although many people associate the company name with wooden boats, in 1955 they released their first Fiberglass boat (1955 Cobra) followed by the creation of a Steel Hull division in 1957 - Producing Cruisers such as the Roamer.
Chris-Craft Silver Arrow - Fiberglass hull with only 92 built between1958 -1959
The company was purchased in 1960 and went through a few different owners, at one point they even sold off the boat manufacturing division. Eventually the company went bankrupt in 2000. Eventually the brand was purchased and resurrected with 4 new models being released in 2006 at the Miami International Boat show. While no longer a family affair - the company purchased by Winnebago in 2018 and still offers beautifully designed modern boats with styles that hint back at the companies golden age.
A Modern 2021 Chris-Craft 21' Capri
The Chris-Craft Antique boat Club is a fantastic resource if you're looking to get more involved with the Classic Boating lifestyle and hobby! It's run by fantastic folks who are genuinely passionate about Chris-Crafts from the golden era of wooden boating.
For more information: https://chris-craft.org/