Chris-Craft boats have their roots in 1874 when 13-year-old Christopher Columbus Smith built his first wooden duck hunting boat. By 1930 Chris-Craft had become the largest mahogany boat builder in the world. This second part of the short history of the classic shipbuilder covers the period from 1930 to the present.
The Great Depression of the 1930s caused Chris-Craft’s boat sales to drop significantly. The company had to produce a range of basic “runabout” powerboats cheaply to stay in business.
During World War II, Chris-Craft built some 12,000 small patrol boats, utility boats, and rescue vehicles for the United States Navy and Army. Some Chris Craft ships entered service on D-Day (June 6, 1944) and Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy.
After the war, Chris-Craft expanded the production of wooden boats and introduced an entirely 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 almost all kinds of recreational activities on the water.
The company sold its ‘high-end’ wooden boats to famous clients and Hollywood stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Not only were the Chris-Craft boats the best available, made from the finest mahogany, they were also easy to operate. Among the “celebrities” of the time, owning a Chris-Craft became a must. The lower priced Chris-Craft boats were also high quality, built with mahogany, teak, and brass. The Chris-Craft brand became virtually synonymous with recreational boating.
In 1955, Chris-Craft built its first fiberglass boat, and in 1957 the company acquired a metal boat building division. The company remained independent until Shields & Company and National Automotive Fibers acquired it in 1960.
Chris-Craft’s last wooden 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 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 a series of corporate restructurings and ownership changes. Today, Chris-Craft, Inc. is a private company based in Sarasota, Florida. Chris-Craft, Inc. currently offers sixteen models of runabouts, center consoles, and express cruisers ranging from 20 feet to 43 feet. Although the company no longer makes boats with wooden hulls, wood is still an important feature in all new Chris-Craft boats.
Over the years, many prominent American families have owned Chris-Craft boats. Among them are the Fords, Firestones, Hearsts, Morgans, Sloans, and Vanderbilts. Two presidents of the United States have owned Chris-Craft boats. Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy used their boats to get away and relax with their families.
The Chris-Craft name and distinctive look of the mahogany hulls have become such important American icons that Chris-Craft boats are in demand for movies and TV shows. In recent years, Chris-Craft boats have been featured in many movies, 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