When the Lights Came on Again All Over the World Page 2

Spectator - August 2001

Spectator — August 2001

By Tom Fexas

When the Lights Came on Again All Over the World
Part 2: Luggage Sales Increase!
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Lights
• Part 2: Lights continued
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Wheeler, a major builder before Pearl Harbor, ran a full-page photo showing a dreamy prewar harbor scene, apparently at a yacht club, with rolling grass leading down to a large float where there’s a 56-foot motoryacht adorned with signal flags. Uniformed crew attend to her. On the opposite shore is a mansion that resembles a castle, and anchored in the river are various boats, such as Elcos and Chris-Crafts. Fat, pink clouds are scattered through the sky, and all is obviously well. The copy reads: "Where freedom rings," and at the bottom is "Wheeler." Simple and effective.

Elco ran a full-pager headed "11 Elco PTs rout 20 Jap destroyers!" In Matthews’ full-page ad from January 1944, the upper half is occupied by a photo of a fast, prewar 55-footer with the caption, "There is a great day coming…when peaceful pursuits can again be the order of the day…when the whole boating industry can again meet you and you and you at the annual New York Boat Show…When the new models will grace the floor on display and you will be chomping at the bit for spring to come and launch your new Matthews."

Chris-Craft showed a rendering of a sleek express cruiser, advanced even by today’s standards. The copy reads, "Keep spirits high, speed victory…buy U.S. War bonds today–tomorrow command your own Chris-Craft."

In yet another advertisement, Huckins offered, "The face of beauty, peace, and happiness is coming back again. Why not begin to dream about a Fairform Flyer?" Owens featured a bow-on view of one of its future models with the caption "From out of the worst storm… will come a fine Owens for you. Owens is ready for the day when a sleek, modern pleasure craft will supplant navy-landing barges on the assembly lines. Orders for the new Owens are already being accepted."

When the lights did come on again in the summer of 1945, the pleasureboat industry was poised to run wild. The U.S. Department of Commerce prepared estimates concerning growth of American industry after the war as compared with industry expenditures in 1940. Topping the list was pleasureboat production, with a staggering 146-percent increase. Second on the list was luggage at 128 percent. The pleasureboat industry was predicted to soar from a $7 million backwater business in 1942 to a $20 million industry after the war.

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American pleasureboat industry was just getting back on its keel after suffering through the Great Depression. For the most part, the boats of the ‘30s and ‘40s were rehashed existing designs with minor modifications made from year to year to make them appear "new and different." Except for a few very large yachts, pleasureboats were nearly always built of wood–mostly plank-on-frame construction held together by a zillion little screws. They were built essentially the same way the Egyptians built boats thousands of years ago. But after kicking Axis butt, we were led to believe that boats would be totally different, put together using revolutionary new materials and methods developed during the war. Could postwar boats meet this prewar hype? Tune in next month.

Tom Fexas is a marine engineer and designer of powerboats. His Web site is www.tomfexas.com.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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