As the organizers prepare for next weekend’s Camp LeJeune Military Appreciation Event in Jacksonville, NC and with Woody Boater proudly displaying a vintage military theme on our home page banner, we thought it would be interesting to touch on Chris-Crafts involvement in the war effort during WWII.
In the book “The Legend of Chris-Craft” by Jeffrey L. Rodengen he notes…
Once again, (in the 1940’s) Chris-Craft would enter a new decade ablaze with enthusiasm and confidence, their victory over the anguish and near-fatal depression (of the 1930’s) decisive and complete. Again too, would events unfold to alter the character of their purpose, and the shape of their product. Newspaper headlines stalked the advances of Hitler’s armies across a terrified and wounded Europe. German seizures of Czechoslovakia and Poland had outraged the sensibilities of the free world, climaxing in declarations of war by England and France.
America, had other, fresh distractions like nylon, cellophane and television to explore. The economy had recovered (from the depression), and America was spending money again, freely and unabashedly. The rapid widening morass in Europe was on everyone’s mind, but as a nation, we were reassured by President Roosevelt of our resolute neutrality.
Chris-Craft introduced 98 models of boats in 1940, including sixteen Utility Runabouts, fourteen Runabouts, sixteen Express Cruisers, fourty seven Cruisers and five models of Motor Yachts. Business had never been better. 1940 sales surpassed, for the first time, the brilliant performances of 1929 as Chris-Craft tallied over $3,665,000.00 for the year.
In 1941 Chris-Craft proudly announced 110 models of boats, with an emphasis on minor model variations and increased luxury in existing models.
Then on December 7, 1941, America was viciously and savagely attacked by Japanese warships and aircraft at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Within four days of the attack, the United States would declare war on Japan and her Axis partners, Italy and Germany. America was plunged into the horrible fury of world war.
Chris-Craft was awarded their first major Government contract within weeks of Pearl Harbor, for 1,025 36-foot Eureka-style Landing Boats. Almost simultaneously, Chris-Craft received orders for 105 Navy Harbor Picket Boats, a 36-foot twin screw cruiser-type boat powered by a pair of Chris-Craft Marine 150 HP engines… which would push the Picket Boats at around 25 MPH.
Chris-Craft efficiency and resolve was rewarded on June 15th, 1942 with the presentation of the prestigious Navy “E” award, the highest honor an American plant or civilian can receive from the United States Navy. Chris-Craft now earned the privilege of flying the Navy “E” Pennant over their 3 plants (in Algonac, Holland & Cadillac, Michigan)… Each of the workers earned the right to wear the Navy “E” lapel insignia identifying them with the honor of this significant award. Each of the plants were presented the award on the same day. The award has a noble and stirring history, which was conveyed to the assembled employees at each location. In return for the award, each worker at Chris-Craft gave their pledge to continue the performance which had made them among the most efficient defense contractors in the country.
Chris-Craft would manufacture more than 12,000 craft for the Armed Services between 1942 and 1945.
Chris-Craft helped the war effort in other ways, by using their advertising commitments to urge Americans to buy War Bonds, which they did by the billions of dollars. Chris-Craft promoted the critical American War Bond drive during the war by placing full-page ads (as shown below) in national publications such as Life Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, etc from 1943 to 1946.
The frustration of a long and agonizing World War was a challenge to the patience of Chris-Craft designers. Accustomed to the gentle curves of recreation, the hard lines of war were stifling and rigid. Anticipation of victory and a return to leisure pursuits swelled the imaginations of both artist and beholder. Together they dreamed of what it would be like when the agony was over. “Tomorrow,” was the promise, “Command your own Chris-Craft.”
The (futuristic) designs which teased a melancholy audience were a blend of the streamline school of the mid-thirties, and the fluid, sweeping exaggerations of art deco. They were bold and imaginative concepts, employing new materials and new techniques which were assumed to be available following the technological explosions of war. That the boats were never produced revealed more innocence and naivete than deceit or failure.
When the end of the war neared, the alluring and futuristic designs disappeared, quickly replaced by the realities of peacetime production. The transition from pleasure craft to landing craft had been so sudden, that the designs which were available as early as August 1945, looked, not so surprisingly, like the tried and true models of 1942. America was anxious to move, and to move on.
Bill Basler (Director of Marketing and Membership, and Treasurer for the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club – Brass Bell Publication) commented on the futuristic Chris-Craft War Bond Ads this way… Bill said – Keep in mind these drawings were concepts only, and were essentially war time propaganda to keep the marketplace aware of the Chris-Craft name, and mouths watering for post WWII Chris-Craft boats. The concepts done during the war featured many variations of the Chris-Craft name, none of which bear much resemblance to the pre-war font.
My theory is that the WWII era concept drawings, because they were being presented as just that…forward-thinking designs, created a perfect climate for Chris-Craft to experiment with its own identity. Who knows who was writing the company back, and why. “I hate the new Chris-Craft logo.” “I love the new Chris-Craft logo.” Much like these ads let Chris-Craft gather market intelligence to formulate their post war boat designs, the logo experiments may have done the same.
It’s almost like Chris-Craft was sticking their toe in the water to see what would happen. Cold? Hot? History tells us that they got a lot of things right just after the war. – Bill Basler
I’m positive they took this shot (below) by the Lake Monroe Old South Motel in Sanford, Florida – The first stop on the St Johns River Cruise North last week after the Sunnyland Boat Show. HA
I can only image how cool it would be if some of these futuristic post-war boats were built as they were designed by Chris-Craft at the time. – Texx
“Materials & Images for this story provided by, and used with the permission of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club.”
Excerpts and text for this story are courtesy of “The Legend of Chris-Craft” by Jeffrey L. Rodengen – Second Edition. ISBN 0-945903-20-0