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Classic and wooden Chris Craft boats

A Gold Cup racer takes a spin during an antique boat show
A Gold Cup racer takes a spin during an antique boat show
Brad Putney, 2009 True North Photography

Today, boat hulls are made of fiberglass, aluminum, and a countless number of composite materials. But when recreational boating began the primary hull material was wood. And the most influential boat builder from the days of mahogany hulls was Christopher Columbus Smith.

In 1874, at the age of 13 Chris Smith built his first wooden boat and a few years later a duck hunting boat made of wood. His hunting buddies liked his boat so much they convinced Chris to build boats for their duck hunts. Smith did, and the first boats from a company of what would become Chris-Craft were born. After a short time his brother Hank started helping him build boats, and with the addition of a number of partners the Smith and Sons Boat Company was making a name for themselves.

The business expanded beyond simple duck hunting boats and during the 1910’s and 1920’s built some of the fastest racing boats. Great on-the-water battles were waged between the Chris Craft boats and the boats from Gar Wood. And while the rivalry waned during the Great Depression each boat built seemed to be bigger, faster, and more powerful than the last.

Owning a mahogany Chris-Craft boat was considered of great status, and many celebrities spent their time away from Hollywood on a wooden Chris-Craft. Eventually, the company saw the popular draw of owning a boat and the value in building pleasure craft. They began building and marketing boats to the middle class, and became one of the first boats to be targeted to the general population.

Today, these wonderful boats can still be found at the docks and in the boathouses all over North America. If you would like to see, and possibly even take a ride in a classic Chris-Craft check out one of the many antique boat shows to be held this summer. There is nothing like hearing the rumble from one of those great, old inboard engines.


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