My History

Chris Craft Wooden Boat History | Smith Ryan Boat Company |1874 To 1971

In a tiny town in Michigan on the St. Clair River, young Christopher Columbus Smith constructed his 1st skiff. This would not be the very last boat he crafted. He constructed many punts or skiffs within the many years to follow. At the age of 20 his reputation as being a master boat builder preceded him. He joined along with his brother Hank and began building boats full time. With the interest in these hunting skiffs grew, Chris and his brother began to increase the production of them quite swiftly. It would not be too long before they formally went into business as the Smith Ryan Boat Company. John “Baldy” Ryan was the financier that made this achievable.

It was with the formation of the Smith Ryan Boat Company that the runabout we identify as a Chris Craft Wood Boats would evolve. Speed became the focus of these boat models. In 1910, they debuted their boats around New york at different boat exhibits. These boats were quick and gorgeous. It’s said that they persistently beat much more advanced European boats in every race.

It was not till the 1920’s, after Ryan dropped from the partnership and the business became Chris Smith and Sons Boat Company, that Chris-Craft boats was brought to the masses. Most likely with inspiration from Henry Ford (who was an owner of a Chris-Craft), Chris Smith began building boats assembly line style, tremendously reducing the production cost and time, thus leading them to be significantly more inexpensive for the growing middle class. Before this, they were handmade wood boats. However, the great Depression was looming large just around the corner. For the duration of these lean years, Chris Smith and Sons launched a line of low-end wood powerboats, in order to stay solvent, and it worked.

In 1930, Chris Smith and Sons Boat Company became Chris-Craft with Jay Smith, Chris’s son at the helm. He would keep this position for nearly 31 years. The business would continue to prosper as a non-public business through the 1930’s. In 1939 Chris Smith passes.

During WWII, Chris-Craft, like many industries in the United States, supported the war effort. They were commissioned by the US Navy to construct patrol boats, utility launches and rescue vessels. For the duration of this time, personal boat production was minimal, but nevertheless continued.

Straight out of the war efforts, business boomed in the earlier 1950’s for Chris-Craft. They launched virtually 160 diverse models for all ranges of customers. They could boast that a number of the wealthiest people in America owned a wood Chris-Craft. Employing such elements as mahogany, teak and brass, even their low-end boats were deemed top quality.

By 1955 Chris-Craft launched its 1st fiberglass boat. But sadly, this was the beginning of the end for the wood Chris-Craft boat. In 1971 Chris-Craft produced their very last wood boat.

Though Chris-Craft has been purchased and sold several times since 1960, each and every owner has seen fit to carry on the legendary quality and magnificence of Chris-Craft boats. It is possible to even now own a Chris-Craft today and know that you are sailing in a class of your own with a Chris-Craft. Contact Hagadone, a premier Vintage Wooden Chris Craft Boat, offering Chris Craft boats as well as restoration and wooden boat repair services.

For more information about owning a Chris-Craft boat, contact our Sales Center @ 866.525.3232 or via email You can also visit our website @ www(dot)hagadonemarine(dot)com. For restoration services contact the Resort Boat Shop @ 208-667-5099 or via email
Danger Man – My History

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