Wooden Motor Boats of the Early 1920's Through the 1930’s

In this technological age, many neglect to reference the “written word” found in books. When I started this business 30 years ago, the internet was in its infancy and in true form, the only access I had to the history of Motor Boats was by flipping pages in old “Motor Boating” and “Rudder" magazines. One day a colleague introduced me to a collection of books, authored by Bob Speltz, who amassed a unheard of collection of stories on Motor Boat manufacturers. I was fortunate enough to acquire a set of 7 Real Runabout (ISBN info Below) volumes and was satisfied I had come across the Holy Grail of reference. I spent countless hours devouring the details in these books and found myself focusing on those manufacturers that changed Motor boating forever.

Wooden Boat Book - Real Runaboutes VI

Over the next few Blogs, I will share with you a history of these unique manufacturers and why I think they made a difference in the legacy of the Classic boat lifestyle.

When I open the doors of Middleton Boat Works in the late 80’s, I sought to create a Brand of my own. My business was on the uptake and many of the boats I restored were appearing in Classic Boat shows. My reputation was growing and I was constantly asked for apparel that represented my Brand. My eyes happened upon a page in Real Runabouts where I found a beautiful lines drawing of a Dodge runabout which I used as part of my new company logo. This simple choice lead to a love affair with the Dodge boat Company as I was well aware that this company’s outlook was in line with my own career which, like Dodge, began in the minds of a brotherhood.

Dodge Boat and Plane Company Logo
The Dodge Boat Company was started by the Dodge brothers in about 1920. Dodge had already seen success in the automotive business. They coined the name” WaterCar” and began building this model in about 1924 which featured the engine forward of the windshield and an aft cockpit. After the death of his father, Horace E. Dodge took control of the boat company in 1925 and business grew exponentially under the guidance of George Crouch who was VP in charge of Design and Production. Horace E. Dodge was not only dedicated to making the Dodge Boat Company one the largest in the world but he also aspired to beat GarWood, his business competitor, out on the water in many of the sanctioned boat races that were popular at the time. It is rumored upwards of $1,000,000 was spent to do so with limited success.

Dodge Factory Plant from the Air
“It was inevitable , sooner or later , that the principles of efficiency and quantity production , as practiced in the automotive industry, should come into the motor boat world.” This is a quote from Horace E. Dodge, 1930. This was a bold statement from Dodge, the son of Horace Dodge, who was an icon in automotive manufacturer. Horace E. Dodge was a visionary and paved the way for a growing motor boat market. He believed boaters sought more than to ply the waters in a standardize runabout, but favored individualized boats, not unlike the custom body automobiles at the higher end of the market. That said, Dodge was cognizant of the view that Motor boating, at that time, was considered part of the lifestyle of the affluent.

Antique Wooden Dodge Boat Advertisement - 1930's
Horace E. Dodge Boat and Motor Company began an bold venture in the 1930’s and set off to build the largest and best equipped Boat factory in the World, located on the waterfront in Newport News, Virginia. His vision was to implement new equipment and methodology to the boat manufacturing process and extend the Dodge brand by assigning a dealer in every major city in America. This was a grand plan, given the state of the economy and the crash of the Stock market in 1929. At the time Dodge would have had little knowledge of the extent of the Depression to come. Regardless, he pressed on and introduced a complete new Fleet of Dodge motor boats to the boating public in 1930. The innovative fleet was penned by one of Americas greatest boat designers, Walter Leveau, who had been with the company since it inception in 1924. Nine models were introduced and were revolutionary when compared to what else was on the market. At that time, Dodge did not have access to an appropriate automobile engine for his new boast so many were powered with the Lycoming marine engines. Lycoming was a branch of the Auburn Car company, makers of the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg of the era. Dodge was determined to promote his boats were fast and assured the public that published speeds were modest to say the least. His boats were also stylish and innovative. Every runabout had a cast “Mermaid” mounted on the top of the stem. Duesenberg steering wheels were installed on many models and many had cigar lighters as standard equipment.

1931 Dodge Split Cockpit Runabout Dash with Duesenberg Steering Wheel and Cigar Lighter
The fleet for 1930 included:

  • 16’ split cockpit with 40 hp @25mph.
  • 21’6” split cockpit with 115hp @35mph
  • 25’ triple cockpit with 125hp @32mph
  • 25’ triple cockpit with 165hp@38mph
  • 25’sedan with 165hp@34mph
  • 28’ triple cockpit with 300hp@45mph
  • 28’ Sedan with 300hp@38mph

1931 Dodge Straight 8 Flathead
In the 1920 and 30’s, Horace E. Dodge had the vision, the connections and the financial resources to take on Chris-Craft, GarWood and Hacker-Craft. As the roaring 20’s pressed on, it seems he was convinced the market was ready for a line of mahogany speedboats that were like no other. It was not to be as The Dodge Boat Company closed it doors in the mid 30’s

Antique Dodge Brochure - Boat Construction
The next time you tour the docks at your local Classic boat show, take time to compare the style, the hardware, the interior and the mechanical features of each of the boat manufacturers of this era. On close inspection, I think you will agree Dodge Boats were at a level of their own. Stay tuned for a photo feature of a 1930 Dodge 21’6” we are marketing. We will be completing a cosmetic refresh of the boat and will document this process providing you with an insight into many of the elaborate features only Dodge boats had.

1931 Dodge Restoration Story Here:


Real Runabouts - Book Series ISBN Link: