Thompson Chris-Craft history

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Thompson Chris-Craft history

Postby LancerBoy » Wed May 30, 2012 8:49 am

Hi all,

There is a Chris-Craft Commander and fiberglass webpage and forum that keeps getting the history of Thompson and Chris-Craft confused and mixed up. So I wrote the following this morning. Thought this would be a good place to share it as well:

There continues to be some confusion and mis-information about the Thompson and Chris-Craft connection. I'll attempt to provide a review.

Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. started at Peshtigo, WI in 1904 by two brothers, Peter and Christ Thompson. Four other brothers eventually joined them; Edward, twins Adolph (called Tom) and Theodore, and Richard. Peter (and possibly Christ) had worked in the boat industry since the 1880s. Peter worked at Racine Hardware Mfg. Co. (the maker of Racine boats) and for a period of less than a year for Christopher Columbus Smith in Algonac, MI.

In 1924 they expanded by obtaining production facilities at Cortland, NY. They bought an existing building and remodeled it for boat production. Boat manufacturing started in early 1925. Adolph (Tom) and sister Hanna came to Cortland to run it. This was a branch of the main facility at Peshtigo.

In 1953 second generation Thompson men started Cruisers, Inc. at Oconto, WI and they built lapstrake outboard boats for Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. By late 1954 they had their own line of "Cruisers, Inc." boats but they continued to have a very close association with Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. There was no split or fued. Cruisers, Inc. started with the full knolwedge and blessing of the elder Thompson men and the Thompson Company at Peshtigo and Cortland. Ray L. Thompson was president and general manager at Cruisers and also at the same time treasurer of Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co.

In late 1958 the three Thompson family owned boat manufacturing operations at Peshtigo, Cortland and Oconto were split amongst various family groups. The elder Thompson men retired. This was the result of some long standing stock ownership issues. It became effective on 01 January 1959.

Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. at Peshtigo continued to operate and it became property of Ray L. Thompson and his wife Winne and their children Peter and Carol Rae.

Cruisers, Inc. became property of brothers Roy H and G. Grant Thompson. One day Ray L. was president and general manager of Cruisers, Inc. and the next he was president and general manager of Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co.

A new corporation was created called "Thompson Boat Company of New York, Inc." to operate the former branch at Cortland, NY. Brothers Bob and Ted, Jr. and their cousin Glenn were owners. Glenn moved from Thompson at Peshtigo were he had been general manager to Cortland. Glenn did not like NY and he sold his interestes in Cortland to Bob and Ted and he returned to Wisconsin in 1960. He started T & T Boats, Inc. at Wausaukee, WI.

The three companies now competed against each other. Initially there was a verbal agreement that Thompson of NY got the eastern seaboard and southern markets and Thompson of Wisconsin got the midwest and western markets.

In January 1962 Bob and Ted sold Thompson Boat Company of New York, Inc. to Chris-Craft. It became a wholly owned subsidiary. They continued to make wooden lapstrake outboard and stern drive boats. They did not make fiberglass boats prior to this time.

All three companies were using a patented strake beveling device for making the plywood planking for their clinker boats. The patent was owned by Edward Thompson and all three firms were paying a royalty to him.

Ted Thompson, Jr. told me that part of the reason they sold was they knew they had to get into fiberglass to survive, but they did not have the capital to tool up for glass. The sale to Chris-Craft would make that transition possible.

A lot has been said that the stern drive cababilities of Thompson of NY played a big role in the CC decision to buy them. I don't buy this argument. Dozens if not hundreds of boat builders embraced the stern drive technology in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were a regular option on two boat models from Thompson of WI by the summer of 1959. Cortland lagged behind Peshtigo by about a year in their use of the stern drive. It was not rocket science.

Chris-Craft started to make changes to the Thompson of NY wooden boat line almost immediately after their purchase. Only logical in my opinion. The 1963 Thompson line looked very different than the 1962 and earlier line. Also, by late 1962 the hull ID system for the Thompson wooden boats was changed to the Chris-Craft format.

Soon after the January 1962 purchase, development of an all-fiberglass line started. Thompson worked on this and Chris Smith at Holland, MI worked on this as well. This became the Corsair line. The first boats were built in a rented facility on Cortland Street in Homer, NY, just north of Cortland. They were making Corsair boats by September 1962. A brand new factory complex was under construction on the southeast edge of Cortland to house the Corsair fiberglass manufacturing operations. It opened for production in early 1963. The Thompson wooden boat factory was across town on Elm Street.

Apparently, some Chris-Craft outboard wooden Sea Skiff models were built at Cortland. They were just the same boats as the wooden Thompson line, just rebadged as a Sea Skiff.

Slowly, Thompson of NY phased out wooden boats. Their last wooden boats were shipped in July 1965. The old Thompson facility on Elm Street was sold by mid 1966. Fiberglass Corsair and eventually Lancer and Gull Wing boats were the future at Cortland.

Bob and Ted Thompson were sent by Chris-Craft to purchase the molds and tooling of the Johnson/Evinrude boats in Illinois about 1970. These became the CC Gull Wing models.

Bob Thompson went to Pompano and worked his way up the Chris-Craft ladder. Gordon Hauser also moved from Thompson at Cortland to Pompano and rose up the CC ranks. Ted Thompson remained at Cortland where he eventually became general manager.

Chris-Craft closed the Cortland, NY plant in 1974. Production was moved to other existing plants. Ted Thompson remained there working as a reginonal sales manager for CC for 10 years or so. Both he and Bob were deeply involed with the ski resort Greek Peak outside of Cortland.

Thompson Boat Co. of Peshtigo, WI continued in business until 1980 when they went bankrupt and closed. A dealer bought the assets from the bankruptcy court and moved production to St. Chalres, MI where they continued to make Thompson boats until 2002. Cruisers, Inc. went thru several ownership changes and today they are called Cruisers Yachts.

I own a 1966 Cortland built Chris-Craft Corsair Sport V 17'-6" outboard fiberglass boat. I also have a pre Chris-Craft purchase Thompson of NY 16' Sea Coaster wooden lapstrake outboard boat.

If you have questions or comments, I will be happy to hear from you.

Mr. Andreas Jordahl Rhude
President & Founder
Thompson Antique & Classic Boat Rally, Inc. - a nonprofit corporation
Posts: 1417
Joined: Mon Jan 28, 2008 3:47 am
Location: Minneapolis

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