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54 Chapter Three Growth of the Giants, 1905–­15 Introduction The story of boat-­ building in Michigan between 1905 and 1915 is essentially one of fluctuation, with a great wave of expansion and contraction as a large number of boat-­building firms created to cash in on the motorboating phenomenon were formed and eventually collapsed. At the end of the era, boat-­ building in Michigan found itself in a very different place than in the beginning. The period reflected two changes, one in growth in the overall number of firms building boats, with an increasing degree of stratification between large and small companies. Large companies became very large, but the small ones remained small, with not very many in the middle range transitioning from small to large. Second, diversification into different methodologies for constructing and marketing boats, as represented by the knockdown boat-­ building sector of the industry, brought the Saginaw Valley into the limelight as an internationally recognized center for boat-­ building. Several of the pioneering inventors of the rapidly growing gasoline engine technology, such as Charles Brady King, moved into automobile manufacturing as opposed to marine work, while at the same time, many new developers in the marine engine field changed the emphasis to high-­ speed engines of greater reliability and durability. New companies emerged that focused specifically on marine engines as opposed to the mix of stationary , automotive, and marine of the earlier generation, represented by the Scripps Motor Company, Van Blerck Motor Company, and Kermath Motor Company, and each became an emerging leader in the field during this era. Between 1905 and 1915 the horsepower-­ to-­ weight ratio of marine Growth of the Giants, 1905–15 • 55 engines improved dramatically through ingenious engineering and practical experience, reducing the weight of individual parts and gaining more compression in the cylinders to create more power. At the intersection of the worlds of the new, more powerful marine engines and the market’s demand for faster boats stood the naval architects and designers, who had to figure out how to harness the motive power in hull forms that best suited the owner’s speed desires while still making boats that were safe and comfortable. Young professionals such as the self-­ taught John L. Hacker and Christopher Columbus Smith, the apprentice-­ trained Carlton Wilby, and university-­ trained Stuart Kingsbury designed ever-­ faster boats for both racing and leisurely cruising. Growth Growth in the boat-­ building industry began in the sheer number of incorporations of new firms all over the state around 1904 and after. By 1907 the boat-­ building industry in Michigan had developed to the point that it could support four large factories sending forth a huge volume of standardized small craft, as well as about one hundred smaller companies or individual operations. Driven by the skyrocketing demand for gasoline launches and cruisers, the recreational boat market increased in size at first because of the novelty of the powerboating experience but also because it expanded into the classes that previously could not afford to own a boat, making ownership of a small, low-­ powered launch a possibility for middle-­ class families. For the largest firms to emerge as national leaders in boat manufacturing , vertically integrated manufacturing became the key to their success. These companies built their own engines as well as boats, giving them a marketing and pricing advantage that few other builders could compete with. Second, extensive marketing and promotion, driven by large advertising budgets and catalog sales, made them highly visible in the marketplace. Prominent product placements at national motorboat shows and expositions likewise promoted the firms. Racine Boat Manufacturing Company One of the largest firms to operate in Michigan in the early twentieth century arrived from across Lake Michigan. The Racine Boat Manufacturing Company kept its Wisconsin city name despite having moved to 56 • Making waves Muskegon, Michigan, in 1904, making it the newest large boat-­ building firm in the state. Fred W. Martin started the company in 1893 in Racine, Wisconsin, after his former business, the Racine Hardware Manufacturing Company, closed during the financial crisis of that year. Throughout the 1890s the company expanded and started building large steel steam yachts and fin keel racing sailing yachts, quickly establishing a regional, then national reputation for excellence. The company lost its original home in a fire on May 31, 1903, which destroyed all the equipment, tools, patterns, and paperwork and over 400 boats. The firm had built on land leased from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St...


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