The Wagemaker Company, Builder Of Wolverine Boats – Both Past & Present


A few weeks ago we discovered a new website dedicated to all things Wagemaker and the popular Wolverine line of boats. The Wagemaker Company has a long and interesting history in the boat building business, from their early beginnings in the 1930’s, and who better to tell us the history of the Wagemaker marque than Bob Speltz from his book The Real Runabouts IV.

Here’s an excerpt from The Real Runabouts IV

Grand Rapids, Michigan always has been and still is the center for making wood furniture. Naturally enough, wooden boat building sprung up in the same general area based on advantages such as good skilled work force, excellent supplies of seasoned lumber, as well as varied types of transportation facilities for shipping and deliveries.

The Wagemaker Company was founded in 1896 by Isaac Wagemaker. The firm concentrated on making wooden cabinets, many of which were sold by the famous Macy Company of New York City. As conditions began to change and competition increased, Ray O. Wagemaker, one of Isaac’s sons, came into the business and in the year 1931 the firm started building wooden boats to complement their furniture division and keep their skilled wood workers busy during slack times.

That first year just 43 flat-bottom rowboats were built. The second year, 1932, saw boat production rise to 86 units with the addition of a new 14′ fishing boat which was popular with the sportsmen in the Grand Rapids area. In 1933 national advertising was started on a very lighted scale. Before long a small dealer network was set up and the Wolverine brand of wooden fishing boats were being shipped all over the midwest. By 1938 Wolverine expanded it’s offerings to 9 outboard hulls plus 3 inboards.

When World War II was finally over, Wagemaker Company geared up for boat building once more. One of the first things they did in 1946 was to build it’s own hardware foundry. This was an important step as few boat builders could claim they had their own source for custom hardware as dis Wagemaker. Over the years this was a wise move as Wagemaker always had a reliable source for it’s own hardware and never had to worry about being “cut off” or loosing it’s supplier because of a strike or other disaster. The later Wolverine boats had some very customized-looking hardware which probably would have been very hard and expensive to have made by an outside vendor.

The firm bought out the molded hull division of of the Plywood Corporation and incorporated it as U.S. Molded Shapes, a a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wagemaker. With this move, Wagemaker assured themselves of a never-ending supply of molded hulls which their firm could finish off in their own plant, as well as sell semi-completed hulls to other builders… both firms and individuals.

Wolverine cedar strip runabouts and fishing boats continued to be popular through the mid-1950’s or so. After that time fewer and fewer straight cedar-strip hulls were produced as customers sought more molded plywood and aluminum hulls each year. In their hey day, Wagemaker employed over 300 men & women and turned out some 10,000 boats a year.

Ray O. Wagemaker inspecting a Wolverine in the paint shop.

Ray Wagemaker and two of his brothers ran the plant until 1954. That year saw the firm offer 50 different models built from plywood, molded plywood, and strip-construction with over 500 dealers scattered across the country. A small number of Wolverine aluminum boats were offered in 1954 as sort of a trial experiment. They sold so well that in 1954 Wolverine also bought out the Cadillac Marine and Boat Company which produced both wood and aluminum fishing boats and runabouts.

By 1959 Wolverine boats had changed to the point where the firm was reorganized into 3 various lines of boats shown as follows:

Wolverine – All plywood and ply lap construction
Cadillac – All aluminum boats
Empire – The new line of all fiberglass boats

Wolverine boats and the Wagemaker Company disappeared from the boating scene some years after this. A disastrous fire plus a switch in market conditions and customer preference spelled the end of Wolverine and it’s wooden boat dynasty. Thus we see the rise and decline of another giant in wooden boat building.

Courtesy Bob Speltz – The Real Runabouts IV

Fast Forward to 2011

In late August, fellow Woody Boater Brian Fogarty launched a new website dedicated specifically to the Wagemaker marque, which includes some history of the Wolverine boats, an on-line Forum, and even an area for other Wagemaker owners to post photos of their boats, etc. Here’s what Brian had to say…

Texx – I am the second owner of a 1955, 14′ Wolverine (Wagemaker) boat with the original 1955 Evinrude 25HP outboard.

I bought it in 2005 at our Indian Lake ACBS Chapter Wooden Boat Show. It had been in storage for 16 years. My dad and I merely sanded it, applied two coats of varnish and tuned the engine up. It subsequently won “Best Outboard” of 21 boats in its class at the 2007 Hessel, Michigan show.

I have been around boats since I was an infant and love the looks and ride they provide. This boat appealed to me because it is light, strong and easy of maintenance due to its molded mahogany ply hull. Our ACBS mission is to preserve these historical artifacts. That is why I have launched the new Wagemaker website at to bring people together from all over the world to share ideas and resources needed to restore and preserve them.

I have also received approval for Wagemaker Boats to appear in the 2012 ACBS Membership Directory under the Marque Listing along with Chris-Craft and Century.

Brian Fogarty

Thanks Brian, and good luck with your new website. To visit the new Wagemaker Boat website you can click here.

Also special thanks to Lee Wangstad for providing Woody Boater with the original Wagemaker brochures from his archive for this story.


43 replies
  1. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    Texx, cool story! I enjoyed reading the history of of this wood boat company here on WoodyBoater. And thanks to Brian for keeping this marque alive through your great looking website.

    Enjoyed my morning coffee very much today while reading.

    • Matt B
      Matt B says:

      Texx, Did you see our youth group’s Wolverine at the boat show last weekend? They just finished it. It missing some hardware but it turned out nice. I’ll try to dig up some pics.

      • Texx
        Texx says:

        Matt B – Yes I did, but didn’t get any photos… Would love to see them.

        By the way, congrats on the show last weekend, everyone from the Blackhawk & Glacier Lakes ACBS Chapters did a fantastic job!

  2. Andreas Jordahl Rhude
    Andreas Jordahl Rhude says:

    Wagemaker did not purchase Cadillac Boat & Marine Co. They started it from scratch as a wholly owned subsidiary in September 1953.

    Did you know about he Lyman connection? In April 1960 Ray Wagemaker sold his boat operations to Walter and Charles Schott and Harrison Ash. The Schotts also owned Lyman Boat Works at the time. Ash gained complete control of Wagemakr, Cadillac and Empire Boats soon after and changed the name to Ash-Craft.

    There is a history article about Cadillac in the Summer 2010 issue of The Channel Marker newsletter of the Michigan Chapter ACBS


  3. Doug Bosch
    Doug Bosch says:

    What a great feature here at the Woodyboater. I’m a member of the Wagemaker website group and am grateful to Brian Fogerty for his work on getting us organized and leading the charge to bring attention to these great boats.

    Doug Bosch

  4. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    1958 Lyman left family owned control when it was sold to Curtis Manufacturing Company of Cleveland controlled by Harold C. Schott who was a summer resident of Sandusky. Curtis Manufacturing sold Lyman in the fall of 1968 to Wyle Labratories of California. Mr. Schott took a national vice president position. The end of Lymans drew near.

  5. brian
    brian says:

    I love seeing small boats with the steering wheel in the aft cockpit (as in the 2011 pic of Brian Fogarty above).

    It is almost like they didn’t want to venture too far from that outboard engine – just in case.

    I sometimes wonder what the driver would do with his wife and mother-in-law in the forward cockpit with their 1950’s Marge Simpson bouffant hairdos flying about in the breeze.

    It could not have been easy to see where one was headed.

    • Randy
      Randy says:

      Ride is a LOT softer in the aft cockpit may have been one reason. Plus, a bit easier starting the outboard if it didn’t have electric start, which most did not in those early days. It is such a short distance to the bow in these small boats that visibility was not that much of a problem.

      These little outboards are a blast compared to the ‘big/heavy’ inboards — like the freedom of being on a motorcycle! C’mon Texx, give one a try sometime!

      • Texx
        Texx says:

        Randy – Maybe we can find one at Lake Chelan this weekend and convince the owner to let us take her out… You drive & I’ll ride Shotgun.

  6. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    That mid seat verson of these boats and Whirlwinds was, as suggested, to put you near the engine. Remember in those days you had to pull the cord to start her, and fiddle with the mixture and choke….not remotely…but from turing around and fooling with that stuff….
    John in Va.

  7. Martin Yager
    Martin Yager says:

    Brian: I am the owner of a 1938 wagemaker boat with an inboard Onan engine. I have an intersest in selling this boat. Do you know of a market for such a boat & trailer? If so where would I list this for greatest exposure? Thanks, Martin

  8. gary kilmer
    gary kilmer says:

    I have a 1954 Wolverine with “Elgin” decals on it. Elgin was Sears and Roebuck’s line of boats and motors so I assume that the original owner (I’m the third owner) bought it from a Sears store or through the catalog.

    • Keith Rowan
      Keith Rowan says:

      Gary. I have a 1952 12′ Elgin that looks like a Wagemaker. Can you help me with any info that does tie Wagemaker to Sears as the supplier – or steer me a little? I have been thinking it was a Yellow Jacket for several years. Now I am not so sure. Keith

  9. Sam
    Sam says:

    When I was a kid back in the late 40’s and 50’s, my dad had a 12 1/2 Woverine boat. The first motor I remember on it was a 16 hp Johnson which was replaced by a 25 hp Evinrude. We all learned to ski behind this boat and had a great time every summer. It would pull 2 skiers easily. We even used to run it at night as it had a deck and stern light powered by a long battery that was located under the front deck. In later years, Dad sold it and very soon it was in an accident it sunk and was never recovered.

    The boat was painted blue on the bottom with white sides and the front deck must have been mahogany as it was varnished.

    If anyone might know what this boat was I sure love to hear about it.

  10. Sam
    Sam says:

    Just a small addition- in regards to the last paragraph, I know it was a Woverine boat and it was 12 1/2 feet long, but would like to know what model it was and approx. what year it might have been made.

  11. Dave Taghon for Empire, MI museum
    Dave Taghon for Empire, MI museum says:

    I am looking at a boat built about 1970 called an Empire Speed Boat by seller and its logo on back corner says “Empire” with a short crown above the larger E. They made fiberglass boats here in Empire called the Empire Boat Corporation and we have a row boat about 14′ and wonder if this could have been a run about built in Empire MI. I know Wagemaker made Empire boats also but have not seen their logo. Can you help? I can send some photos of boat and logo if needed.


  12. The full report
    The full report says:

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    • Ken Misgen
      Ken Misgen says:


      I know this is over a year later than the post, but I have a Shannon 14′ outboard that I acquired two years ago. I also want information on the boat. I was at a boat show in Alexandria last week and talked to Lee Wangstad. He is another Bob Speltz type as he personally knew him and has acquired much information on most boat manufactures. I just recently asked for information from him on the Shannon. I will re-post any information I receive.

    • Sharon Atchison Webster
      Sharon Atchison Webster says:

      My dad was Guy Atchison who made the Shannon Boats in our shop and sold them in St. Paul Mn. He made many models, duck boats 10 and 12 ft and14 and 16 ft runabouts. Most were sold unfinished and the customer painted varnished or fiberglass ed themselves. Last manufacture was around 1966 when aluminum and fiberg lass made wood obsolete..

  13. Jake Strissel
    Jake Strissel says:

    I’m not sure if this is the right place to post this, but after searching far and wide on the web, this is the closest thing I have found in accuracy to my search. I am from North-Central Montana and recently aqcuired a small row boat that sat in the quonset of an old farmer for many years. I looked at it and there was a tag on it that reads “Shannon Boat MFD By Atchison Boat Works in St. Paul Minn”. It has the address of that place, but nothing I have found on the internet suggests this place even existed. Accompanying this tag, was another tag that reads Montana Bureau of Reclamation Boat #19. Milk River Project. I know they put in a dam on the river not far from where I got the boat back in the 1950’s. The boat is a 1953 model according to the registration. Could anyone help me find out more history on this boat? I would like to preserve it and restore it to its original state, but without knowing the history, I do not know how to properly do this.

    • Sharon Atchison Webster
      Sharon Atchison Webster says:

      Guy Atchison was my father who built the Shannon Boats on St. Anthony Avenue in St. Paul MN until the new interstate system made us move in 1960. We moved to Selby Avenue where dad manufactured the boats until about 1966 when he switched to selling Crestline fiberglass boats and Evinrude motors. He retired to Florida in 1969 and passed away in 1971 in Ft. Lauderdale

    • Sharon Atchison Webster
      Sharon Atchison Webster says:

      My brother helped dad build the boats and still remembers the dimensions and process. He pastors in Baytown, Texas and may be able to help you.

  14. test
    test says:

    whoah this blog is excellent i really like reading
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  15. June
    June says:

    Searching for someone who can recommend a wooden boat restorer. We own a 1952 Wolverine wooden boat that has wood damage. Would like to invest in getting our boat restored to its original status. Thank you for your suggestions; we are located in Michigan.

  16. Patti R
    Patti R says:

    I have a Wagemaker Wolverine wakeboard (I don’t know what else to call it) and was wondering if you could give me some history on it. I can’t find anything like it on the Internet anywhere. It’s big and heavy and am sure has a high potential for a closed head injury if you wiped out on it. Ha! 😉 I attached a picture of it. Can you give my any information on it? Like when it was made or how rare it is?

  17. Carlton Peterson
    Carlton Peterson says:

    Looking for some information. I was recently “gifted” a 14′ Wolverine Runabout (1954?) with the understanding I could keep the boat as long as I would restore it. After looking at it, I know it’s something I can do. I did contact Brian Forgerty asking questions about the style, model name, etc. Brian said he would get back to me after some research. I’m hoping to hear from him soon. The boat has dual cockpits with the steering wheel in the front. The boat is very solid and really only needs some stripping and refinishing. One question is the bottom hull is covered in fiberglass. It’s an old enough type of fiberglass that I can remove it fairly easy with a heat gun. I’ve built numerous cedar strip canoes so re-fiberglassing shouldn’t be too difficult. Is it better to restore the boat without fiberglass? Since the boat hasn’t been in the water since 1992, the fiberglass may reduce water leaking through small cracks in the hull or transom. Also, I’m looking for some parts; specifically a windshield. The dash board only has an opening in the center similar to a glove box. What I’d like to do is to install a key ignition switch, volt meter, horn button, and possibly a speedometer. I know these weren’t originally on the boat. Maybe it’s best to leave it the way it was built. But any information regarding where I could purchase these items would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Hi Carlton – Brian is a great resource for information so you are on the right track. He will also advise you on the fiberglass bottom for that brand of wooden boat.

      Depending on the age of the fiberglass and the method used to install it, close inspection of the wood is important to ensure no rot has occurred. As a person with wooden boat experience, the restoration work should be straight forward.

  18. Carlton Peterson
    Carlton Peterson says:

    Thanks Texx,
    Brian did get back to me with some valuable information. I got a copy of Don Danenberg’s “Wooden Runabout Restoration Guide” from inter-library loan. Great information there too.
    Do you have any suggestions or leads where I could possibly find windshield brackets, or possibly the entire windshield? I know I could get the glass made, but brackets would be helpful.
    Thanks again.

  19. Texx
    Texx says:

    Great to hear Carleton. Not really sure where you can locate windshield brackets for Wagemaker, but you may want to connect with Jim Staib at Fine Wood Boats in Illinois. Jim is very knowledgeable on this kind of stuff.

    If you can provide Jim with a photo of what you are looking for, he may be able to help. Here’s the link to his website.

  20. Texx
    Texx says:

    Kind of looks like one Ken. No other marks anywhere like serial numbers or hull numbers in the wood stringers or under the decks?

  21. Ed Bahniuk
    Ed Bahniuk says:

    I am restoring a 1957 Wagemaker serial number 6149.
    There are two strips of shaped wood along the top of the deck and follow the rub rails. The strips are nailed not screwed. They were painted white.
    I do not find a replica on other model boats of the same vintage.
    I am trying to determine if they were original to the factory or added by a previous owner.
    One possible function is to protect the end grain on the plywood deck.
    Can you please advise?


  22. Bill Fifer
    Bill Fifer says:

    I have a box with 2 brass parts in it reads on the end of the box that it is #30 brass safety sockets. Can you tell me what they are for and the boat or boats they go to, and what they sell for?Thanks Bill


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