Higgins Boats – What Makes Them So Unique?

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A Classic Higgins 17′ Sport Speedster (then) freshly restored by Tom Juul from Minnesota, that’s Tom behind the wheel during the 2003 Bob Speltz Land-O-Lakes ACBS Chapter Boat Show.

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.

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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)

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Sorry about the Porta-Potties in the background, but this is a nice shot of the decking and transom.

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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.

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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.


“Foxy Lady” – Photo courtesy Katz’s Marina

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.

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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.

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Rare Higgins Outboard – 2003 BSLOL Boat Show, Dane Anderson Photo

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.”

Higgins 26' DeLuxe Sedan Cruiser
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.

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The “Andrew J” – 1948 26′ Higgins Deluxe Sedan Cruiser Owned by Jeff Oppenheimer Won 2012 BEST PRESERVED CRUISER – ACBS International Antique and Classic Boat Show at Table Rock Lake – Branson, MO

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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!


45 replies
  1. Sean
    Sean says:

    Well, the coolest thing to me about these boats IS the pedigree of Higgins themselves…

    They made PT boats! How cool is that! The rest as they say is just gravy.

  2. don vogt
    don vogt says:

    Great article, Texx. Yes, Higgins are sort of cool. the Andrew J and Foxy Lady are neat boats.

    Not too many out West, but we have a couple in N. Idaho. Our neighbors at hayden lake have one they have owned since the 50’s when their dad was west coast distributor for Higgins boats. Won best post war utility at this year’s Inland Empire acbs show. There is also a beautifully restored 23 speedster in the Panhandle. I will see if i can dig up a picture of it,too.

    Rumor has it that the Ploetners might bring Foxy Lady to the Coeur d Alene ACBS show this sept. that would be super.

    • Chris Milstead
      Chris Milstead says:

      Hi, I found the article on the J.C. Higgins boats and am wondering what the value is on them or where it could be found. A friend of mine has one that has been stored for years in his shop. He purchased it new and it still resides on the original trailer. He had started to repaint it and stopped. It has the single outboard motor. He purchased it in 1962. And yes, it resides in Idaho!

      • Texx
        Texx says:

        Hi Chris, Give Don at McCall Boat Works a call. He is in McCall, Idaho and will be able to help you. mccallboatworks.com

  3. John Kadimik
    John Kadimik says:

    Great story Texx. Here are 2 (color) postcards of a Higgins ride boat used out of the Hopatcong State Park. The 2 black & whites are out in front of Northwood Boat Works. Pretty sure the top was fabricated at Northwood Boat Works by the Davis Family.

  4. 72hornet
    72hornet says:

    The museum in Alexandria, Minnesota has a beautifully restored Post War Higgins Sport Speedster “Uncle Bob” on loan from the Hedburg family from Lake Okoboji in NW Iowa. The boat was restored by the Jerry Dyhrkopp family of Bluewater Restoration and was an award winner at Lake Tahoe in the either 1999 or 2000. I have had the honor to show and pilot this beauty. The name came from Paul’s Uncle Bob who bought the boat new and Paul would sneak out and “borrow” it for late evening cruises in Minnesota during his youth. Pauls uncle then passed the boat to hiim and he had a fabulous restoration done. The museum in Alexandria is a must see for everyone!

  5. john
    john says:

    Our 1961 Higgins 18′ Mandalay is like a sports car on water. With its factory 390 CI Ford Crusader Interceptor motor it is fast –top end was originally supposed to be 47 mph.

    With the port side drive, foot pedal throttle, and transmission shift on the column it is unlike most other boats—old or new.

    We named our boat, WAVES, in honor of the WW II women in the U.S. Navy (Women Acepted in Voluntary Emergency Serivce) known as WAVES.

    One 1961 Higgins magazine ad says of its models: “…Note those lines of beauty, speed and seaworthiness…heritage of the immortal PT boat of wartime fame..”

    We’re happy to have kept this Higgins on the water, albeit with some modifications to make it a great user boat.

  6. Hutch
    Hutch says:

    Thanks Texx for the pictures of Lady in Red– a couple I didn’t have –the BSOL had Higgins boats has their marque class that year in conjunction with the Higgins boat club—great show—Lady in Red was sold and now resides in Lake Tahoe–heres a picture of a 23′ speedster owned by Jerry Woods of Lake Pend Orielle Id

  7. mark
    mark says:

    We saw Foxy Lady at the ACBS Branson show. My favorite boat there. There was lots of competition. Mark

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    The dash on the boat at Lake Geneva is absolutely gorgeous. The kind of wheel and instruments I could look at all day. Reminiscent of an old Benz, like that of this 300SL.

    Very interesting to learn about these boats. Thanks Texx.

  9. George Emmanuel
    George Emmanuel says:

    For 20 years I’ve been chasing a 1948 sitting in a barn here in Gainesville Florida, just down the street from my cardiologist. I begged the owner, a friend of the family, to sell it to me. “Nope, I’m going to fix it up some day”. We’ve all heard that story. A year ago I ran into him at breakfast. “Jack, when are you going to sell me that boat?”. “I’m not going to sell it to you!—I’m going to give it to you!” His wife said I’d better get it before he changes his mind, and I did!

    It is in line after I finish my Sportsman.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Wow – Congratulations George… Looks like what ever you did paid off. Nice work, you now own a rare Higgins.

    • WoodyGal
      WoodyGal says:

      Nice find George, glad you have it. Have you now gone to the in-board side? Love your Lyman outboard!

      • George Emmanuel
        George Emmanuel says:

        Susan, I’ve always had inboards! I sold my Cavalier and started on the Sportsman. The Cavalier took an award in 1989 @ Mt. Dora. Neat boat but Muffet wanted something with more beam and freeboard.

  10. August
    August says:

    I use to have a 1946 Utility in Tahoe in Homewood, it was dark blue with a varnished top, very nice boat but needed bottom work. Would love to find it again..if anyone has any idea pass it along.

  11. Jeff Oppenheimer
    Jeff Oppenheimer says:

    Great job Texx! Us Higgins folks could have not said it any better! Right now I have my 1945 14′ Rowboat upside down in the garage and hope to have her out this summer… see you soon!

    Take Care…. Jeff

  12. Lawrence Fecho
    Lawrence Fecho says:

    Hi, I have a Higgins that I am restoring. Trying to find someone you can tell me how to figure out what year it is. The plaque says 40II I N 99. The other plaque says Manufactured by Higgins, New Orleans, USA, Model #H-170, Serial NO. 99.
    We think it is a 17 foot, it is red & white. Has been in the family for many years, but no one knows what year it is. All we know is that is it pre 1948.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Contact the Higgins Boat Owners Association, they are very resourceful and will be able to help you with this.

    • Rick & Diane Laenen
      Rick & Diane Laenen says:

      Lawrence…. We were just reading all of the information about the Higgins Boats and wondering if you ever found out what year your boat is?

  13. Jim Selke
    Jim Selke says:

    Have a 1961 Higgins 17 Ft Mandalay all original. Am getting ready to start a complete restoration of same does anyone have any suggestions on where to get engine/transmission parts if available for the 240 HP Interceptor?

  14. Bob Broyles
    Bob Broyles says:

    I just was browsing this morning and ran across the articles on Higgins runabouts. I have a 1949 19′ Higgins Sport Speedster triple. I entered it the ACBS show last year in Coeur d’ Alene. Out of 147 boats, it was the only Higgins; however, no recognition was given to ‘Miller Time’ by the ACBS. All Chris Craft and Century… Reviewing the blog this morning allowed me to see another triple for the first time. I have actual sales brochures of a boat just like mine and had those on display last year. Thanks so much for giving our boats some recognition.

  15. Ken atz
    Ken atz says:

    Im restoring a 1958 higgins outboard boat with a wooden windshield looking through several website pictures i never see wood windshields how rare is this ?
    Any help with parts for this project ?

    J W MORVANT says:

    Sun Pipeline Co. had a 29′ Higgins utility boat in service in south Louisiana (Iberville Parish) during the 1950’s. Powered by a 6-cyl Graymarine engine. Any info on this type of boat would be appreciated.

  17. Martin Johnson
    Martin Johnson says:

    Hi there I am looking for some help I bought a Higgins boat an looking for some body to help me out on info like year an anything information would be nice it a 17 foot Higgins model H17C-1 serial# 973 has a kiser Fraser 6 cylinder inline motor Higgins gray marine any info on or who I can contact would be nice

  18. Bob Harris
    Bob Harris says:

    Back in the early fifties I was a teenager growing up in Raleigh!, N.C. My dad had a Gar Wood runabout but his friend had a Higgins. I loved that Higgins. We operated on a small lake and dad’s friend would let off the gas and spin the wheel while running that Higgins wide open! It would spin around in it’s own wake and speed off in the opposite direction. I wouldn’t think of trying that in the Gar Wood-I think we would have swamped. I loved that red and white Higgins for the beautiful flair to the bow and the wide beam. Today, at 77 I would be thrilled to see oneagain!

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