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When the Lights Came on Again All Over the World, Part II

Spectator - September 2001

Spectator — September 2001

By Tom Fexas


When the Lights Came on Again All Over the World, Part II
More details about the American pleasureboat industry after WWII.
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• Part 1: Spectator
• Part 2: Spectator
 
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In August 1945 the U.S. Air Force dropped a couple of big ones over Japan, ending the war in the Pacific. Months earlier crazy Adolf saw fit to do the right thing and kill himself, ending the war in Europe. It was a time of rebirth for the United States: new lives, new homes, new cars, and, of course, new boats. The American public had been promised a futuristic society after the war--a society as depicted at the 1939 World's Fair, which included space-age cities, flying cars, robots, remote-controlled kitchens, and, in general, push-button living. Little of this materialized directly after the war, and life went on much as it had prior to World War II.

REHASHED PREWAR DESIGNS
On the boating scene, as described last month, the public was lead to believe that a glorious new era would greet us at the end of World War II. Bold new designs were promised using advanced materials and construction techniques developed during the war. Towards the end of the war, boatbuilders issued renderings of boats that looked like rocket ships that had inadvertently rolled into the river. So what was seen in 1946? Not much. Perusing spring/summer 1946 magazines of the time, it is apparent that companies that were producing pleasureboats before the war, sadly, with a few exceptions, were producing virtually the same boats after the war.

Matthews apparently did not have enough time to design the promised new models, and its "38-foot deluxe Sedan" was the same boat it was producing before the war. The first Chris-Crafts showing up were also disappointments, being rounded-off, gussied-up prewar designs. Wheeler introduced its "revolutionary sunliner cruisers," which appeared to be prewar hulls with semistreamlined superstructures. The sole so-called revolutionary feature was "streamsheer," a stripe just below the sheer incorporating a Plexiglas band instead of portholes, providing a continuous strip of light in each lower deck compartment.

WAR TECH
There was hope, however. Harbor, which built air-sea rescue craft during the war, came out with a 40-footer called the Harco 40 whose styling was sleek by today's standards. Powered by two 300-hp V12 Scripps engines, she was a beautiful thing. Huckins presented smart-looking new "FairForm Flyers" (to me, this always sounded like a good name for a brassiere). Steelcraft, a funky, clunky 26-footer that looked something like a floating `47 Plymouth, advertised, "While others caulk and scrape...we are having fun!" Indeed, a welded steel hull on a 26-footer was revolutionary. The only wee problem was that after a couple of years, salt water rusted through the thin skins, sending more boats to the bottom than Germans subs did during WWII. Chalk this up as another casualty of war.

Richardson produced its infamous molded plywood "bathtub cruisers." They had rounded bows and a "transom" that appeared just like the end of an inverted bathtub. War tech made these strange, round transoms possible even if they were completely impractical. It seems they were built that way just because it was possible.

Post-war technology also reared its complicated head in the form of systems and equipment that became available to the masses: Radiotelephones, refrigeration, engine-air controls, pressure-water systems, electric toilets, electronic navigation aids, and gensets would soon become common. 

Next page > Lights, Part 2 > Page 1, 2

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

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