The History of Dodge Boat Works

The History of Dodge Boat Works

The Dodge brothers, Horace and John, created a highly successful Motor Car company in about 1913.  The Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company grew, and by 1915 they were the second largest car manufacturer in the USA.  But as fate would have it, both brothers died from influenza related illnesses in 1920.  Horace Dodge's only son was Horace Dodge Jr. and after his Fathers death, his mother encouraged the young Dodge to begin his own venture in 1923 called Horace E. Dodge Boat Works which would use car assembly techniques to build wood boats.  He began branding the boats under the "WaterCar" name. He spent the equivalent of over $15 million ( in todays money) building a Boat factory that only managed to produce 5 boats a day.  George F Crouch was in charge of design and production.  This innovative approach , coupled with world class marketing vaulted Dodge to an enviable position. By the late 20's, Dodge Boats made the competitors like Chris-Craft and Gar-Wood seem mundane.  The roaring 20's instilled great optimism in the future and young Dodge was convinced there was a growing trend toward luxurious Speedboats.  Plans were drawn up for a beautiful line of Dodge boats in about 1928,  yet no one anticipated the stock market crash of 1929.  Around the same time Dodge Jr. initiated construction of a new factory in Newport News, Virginia and boats were well under production by the Spring of 1930.  The plant was State of the Art and was divided into 8 departments, linked together with an overhead monorail that moved boats from station to station.  

A spectacular new Dodge model line appeared in 1930.  It was available in the following lengths

  1. 16' Runabout.  Solid mahogany construction, powered by a 40hp Lycoming.  Price $945
  2. 21'6" Runabout.  Solid mahogany, split cockpit, folding windshields, 35 mph with a Lycoming straight 8.  Price $2100
  3. 25' Runabout.  Solid mahogany, triple cockpit.  Lycoming straight 8 with speeds up to 38 mph.  Price $3200
  4. 28' Runabout.  Solid mahogany.  Triple cockpit. Lycoming straight 8 - 32 mph, Lycoming V12 - 45 mph.  Price up to $5000

Horace Dodge Jr. was a force to be reckoned with.  He was from a very wealthy family, owned homes all over the world and in his leisure time, raced cars and airplanes and boats.  He is reputed to have spent well over a $1,000,000 alone trying to become a famous speedboat racer like his competitor, Gar-Wood.  He had a fleet of Race boats, each named in honor of his sister, Delphine.  These boats included “Baby WaterCar” with a 24 cylinder engine with 400hp., “Sister Syn” and any number race boats called “Delphine”.  Dodge was well connected at the upper echelons of Society,  given his status and wealth.  He formed a working relationship with the Auburn Automobile company which was linked to Cord and Duesenberg.  Lycoming was well known for building aircraft engines and worked with Dodge to modify their engines for marine use.  Horace Jr. was adamant that his new boats would be equipped with features not seen on any other boats.  Duesenberg steering wheels were use on the larger boats.  The steering hub was altered to allow for throttle, spark advance and an innovative light switch at the base of the column.  A Cord gear lever was fashioned and installed through the dash to operate the gearbox.  Hardware on these Dodges was of the highest quality and unique to Crouches specifications.  The Dodge name was featured on the step pads and the very unique "Mermaid" sculpture was attached to the bow.  Dodge was convinced the mermaid would mimic hood ornaments on cars.  Bar none, the Dodges that were produced in 1930 and 1931 were the finest production mahogany runabouts on the market.  

Dodge remained optimistic and in the early 30’s but as the economy continued to worsen, the Dodge Boat Company found itself in a position whereby their fabulous new runabouts proved to be unaffordable to the majority of the boating public.  While the family could well afford to continue to fund the Company, a decision was made to close operation in the mid 30’s which makes any Dodge that remains today both rare and exceedingly collectible.  Have a look at our Web site and you will see a stunning 1931 Dodge 21’6” split cockpit Runabout we meticulously restored to Show condition.  This unique boat is currently for sale through Absolute Classics Marine.