We thought it would be fun to dedicate a day to the classic Higgins marque, specifically post-war Higgins pleasure boats, and ask the question – “Just what makes them so unique?” Higgins boats often don’t get the recognition they deserve. Post-war Higgins boats are rare, and one of the few marques that we don’t have many photos of in our growing archives. But a quick e-mail to Minnesota correspondent Dane Anderson and “boom” we had some great shots for our story today. The photos from Dane were shot during the 2003 Bob Speltz Land-O-Lake ACBS Chapter Boat Show which was held at Treasure Island Casino on the Mississippi River near Red Wing. Higgins was the featured marque for the event and Dane noted that there were a number of very cool Higgins in attendance.
To help with today’s story we also found some great vintage brochure photos courtesy of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Archive – one of the many benefits of membership in the club.
Below – another very nice 23′ Higgins Speedster featuring the “convertible styling” unique to the Higgins brand from the 1950’s.
We believe this is a late 1940’s (48?) 19′ Higgins Deluxe Runabout, but may need some help to confirm this. The sharp styling, straight lines and bright painted colors make this rare twin-forward cockpit Higgins runabout stand out. (We understand “Peacetime” is a 1946 19′ owned by Dave Thomas of Georgia. – Thanks Jim)
Here’s a great photo of another 23′ Higgins Speedster which was then owned by master restorer Dan Nelson from Neslon Boatworks in Minnesota. At the time this shot was taken, this was Dan’s personal boat, which later received a full Concours level restoration by Nelson Boatworks.
The 1955 Chrysler Marine Hemi powered Sport Speedster is now named “Foxy Lady” – Owned by Donald R and Donald R II Ploetner which won the prestigious 2012 BEST OF SHOW – PRESERVED Award at the ACBS International Boat Show in Table Rock Lake, MO.
The best resource for all things Higgins is the Higgins Classic Boats Association website. Here’s an excerpt from the website on the history of Andrew Higgins and the Higgins marque.
Andrew Jackson Higgins
Founder of Higgins Industries, New Orleans, LA
Higgins boats, almost forgotten, are now being brought back to life by dedicated individuals. Some of them served on Higgins PT boats and landing craft, but others are being restored by people that know about the true story of what Higgins Industries did for the world. These pleasure craft and military vessels are very rare and fall deep into the heart of their restorers.
Andrew J. Higgins had a vision, a drive, a passion that kept him going through good times and bad. Born in Columbus, Nebraska in 1886, he had a love for boats that would last him all of his life. A tough man that developed some of the first work boats that could navigate commercially in shallow waters, named Eureka “tunnel drive” vessels.
After moving to New Orleans (the hub of the world), a port where it made naval shipping possible, Higgins Industries was born. Higgins wooden boats developed quite a reputation for their toughness in the Southern climate. They were very effective in the swamp waters of Louisiana. Andrew Jackson Higgins and Higgins Industries grew from being a small Southern boat company to owning and operating seven large plants, employing 30,000 employees at one point in their operation. During WW II, Higgins Industries was the largest producer of landing craft and PT boats for this country, even blocking off city streets in New Orleans to build those boats that our country so desperately needed.
So many ideas and so many inventions came from Higgins Industries that we take for granted today. Higgins Industries not only built PT Boats and Landing craft, but also trained naval officers and personnel how to use their boats. During the war, Higgins Industries was awarded the largest government contract during WW II to produce assault craft that would ensure our country’s efforts in winning the fight.
Higgins military craft were fast and the design of the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) allowed our troops to be landed onto the beaches of Normandy and other places throughout the Meditereanean and Pacific theaters of war. Higgins Industries employed some of the greatest people…. people dedicated to the cause of winning the war. In Jerry Strahan’s book, “Andrew Jackson Higgins And The Boats That Won WWII”, President Eisenhower was said to have referred to Andrew J. Higgins as “the man who won the war for us”. Higgins boats were the perfect vessel for the war front. Congress has recently commissioned a Gold Medal of Honor for Andrew Jackson Higgins to recognize the efforts of all the workers and his work during the war.
Higgins pleasure craft were designed after their big Brothers the PT Boats. If you have the honor to see a Higgins at a boat show, you will know it when you see it. They are different with their left hand steering, floor accelerator pedals (one of Higgins trademarks) and their shift levers on the columns, just as you would find in an automobile.
There are only about 200 Higgins pleasure craft left , so if you see one, consider yourself lucky. They drive different, they look different, they are beautifully designed and well thought out, not just a cheap plywood boat put together, but one that was built by the many hands that also built the Landing Craft and PT Boats during the war. – Courtesy Higgins Classic Boats Assoication
The 1957 Higgins Starfisher utility inboard. This 15’11” molded plywood utility was capable of 32 MPH and described in the brochure as – ….built for those who really know boats … designed for those who really know fishing. The Higgins brochures always referenced their proud Military PT Boat design & history.
The 1957 Higgins Gamefisher utility outboard. Weighing in at just 500 Lbs, this little utility was capable of 33 MPH with the Twin 40’s on a rugged transom and described in the brochure as – ….built for those who really know boats … planned for the fisherman’s pleasure. Aft folding seats were optional.
On the higher end of the Higgins lineup in the late 1940’s was the 26′ Deluxe Sedan Cruiser which was marketed by Higgins as “A luxurious cruiser that has the accommodations of a much larger boat. Strong, speedy, dependable, with a large cockpit and trim, functional cabin which slept four comfortably.”
We snapped these shots of the “Andrew J” during the 2011 ACBS International show at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Another stunning restoration by Dan Nelson, this Higgins Deluxe Sedan has to be seen in person to just understand how beautiful is it, and appreciate the unique post-war Higgins designs. The presentation by owner (and Higgins Classic Boats Association member) Jeff Oppenheimer was also fantastic.
So what makes these post-war Higgins pleasure boats so unique? The fact that they are very rare today, with a broad range of boat designes including basic utility design features and also more traditional runabouts design features, and the outstanding painted hulls from the period. And the military design heritage that was carried in to all the post-war Higgins pleasure boats. And the nice folks at the Higgins Classic Boats Association for keeping these old boats alive for future generations to see and appreciate. Check out their website by Clicking Here.
What unique Higgins design features stand out for you? Let us know in the comment section.
Thanks to Dane Anderson, The Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Archive and the Higgins Classic Boats Association for their help with this story today. If you ever get an opportunity to see one of these rare Higgins boats at a show or event, take the time to stop and appreciate just how cool they are.
Have a Happy Higgins Day!