Nowadays, most modern marine vessels are made from fiberglass instead of wood. Boat manufacturers quickly realized fiberglass is cheaper than wood and doesn’t require nearly as much maintenance. However, even the best paint job on a fiberglass boat can’t replicate the look of real wood.
Chris-Craft was one of the first major wooden boat manufacturers in the United States. Although most boaters prefer fiberglass vessels, the company’s mahogany models are still valuable to collectors. What makes Chris-Craft so successful today?
The history of Chris-Craft
Chris-Craft’s founder, Chris Columbus Smith, built his first boat when he was only 13 years old in 1874. His skills were already so advanced that he kept getting more work from locals in the area. With the help of his brother Hank, boat-making became his full-time job, Mahogany Bay reports.
They mainly built skiffs and punt boats but progressed to building runabout boats in 1910. That was when they founded the Chris Smith & Sons Boat Company, known then as the Smith Ryan Boat Company. Chris’s son Jay became president of the company in 1927 when demand for mahogany boats was at its highest.
During the Great Depression, Chris-Craft’s primarily wealthy consumers stopped buying boats, so the company went back to producing low-priced roundabouts. It was also responsible for producing over 12,000 patrol boats for the Navy during World War II, Chris-Craft explains.
By the 1950s, after producing 139 wooden powerboats, the company built its first fiberglass and steel models. The last mahogany Chris-Craft boat, the Constellation, debuted in 1971. Soon after, the company shifted back to making sports boats. That’s what helped the business gain traction in the 1920s.
Despite this change in direction, the quality of the boats didn’t decrease, and customers were happy to continue supporting Chris-Craft. The company changed hands through a few investment companies at the turn of the century before Winnebago bought it. Today, Chris-Craft manufactures five models, ranging from affordable cruisers to high-end luxury vessels.
Prized Chris-Craft models
One of the rarest and most iconic pre-war Chris-Craft models is the Sportsman 25. It had a limited production run of only 25 models and measured 25 feet long. Most had green leather upholstery and green linoleum flooring.
Buyers could choose from five engines, the most powerful producing 223 hp. The Sportsman 25 offered up to three rows of seating and was built with the company’s signature Honduras mahogany.
Chris-Craft’s last mahogany boat, the Constellation, was much larger at 40 feet long, Boats & Places explains. Though it wasn’t speedy, the twin 400-hp engine was powerful enough to hull a ship full of cargo. This boat had three levels, with a cockpit furnished entirely in mahogany.
The Constellation’s master stateroom housed the fuel tanks and featured two wooden beds built atop to maximize space. The salon and galley featured wide windows and plenty of headroom for passengers. An additional lounge space for more guests was located in the V-berth.
How much does one of these wooden vessels cost today?
According to Boating magazine, a wooden Chris-Craft boat in decent condition can sell for $20,000. However, most Chris-Craft models on the market have been meticulously restored, inflating their prices. A 19-foot vessel might sell for $40,000, but some 25-footers can fetch over $120,000.
Chris-Craft Constellation models are relatively more affordable, ranging from $20,000 to around $75,000. For perspective, the Constellation retailed for $35,190 upon release. In addition to beautiful craftsmanship, Chris-Craft’s wooden boats still hold up and can be used on the water today.