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Chris-Crafts WWII efforts and their impact on small town Michigan

Similar to the mass production of bombing planes and jeeps, boats, in particularly landing craft, were an essential vehicle produced here in America for the World War 2 efforts. As Chris-Craft of Algonac, MI started producing these vehicles in mass, their factories changed life in some small towns forever.

Chris-Craft is one of the most well-known luxury boat company based right out of the small town of Algonac, Michigan. The company was founded in 1910 by Chris smith and began producing economically price runabout boats for the masses. Chris-Craft was the largest employer in the town of Algonac right along the Saint Clair River, 30 minutes up river from Detroit. In 1927, Chris-Craft was taken over by Chris Smith’s Son, Jay Smith, who would hold the leadership position for the next 31 years and transform the company into one of the largest producers of wooden power boats.

The Chris-Craft company came on hard times during the Great Depression but luckily, they were able to restore the success of their company with the beginning of World War 2. Chris-Craft became the second largest producer of landing craft for the United States Military and opened up two more plants in Holland, Michigan as well as Cadillac, Michigan.

With the creation of these huge production plants, the way of life in the relatively small towns changed forever. Factory workers flocked to the towns in the search of labor. With most of the men drafted or joining the military as war efforts escalated, Chris-Craft employed women, similar to other large war production plants. The idea of “Rosie the Riveter” stood strong in Algonac, Holland and Cadillac. Women, mostly young, came from all over the Midwest seeking work in these plants.

The plant in Algonac built the larger boats like the Navy’s Picket Boat, which needed to be tested in the Saint Clair River before they were shipped off for use by the military. The Holland plant, which was also located along main waterways connecting it to Detroit, produced mainly landing vehicles that were used in the amphibious assault during D-Day in 1943. The Cadillac plant was not on main waterways and the boats needed to be shipped out of the small town; this plant also produced mainly landing craft.

For their war efforts, Chris-Craft was awarded the Navy/Army “E” award which was presented to companies during World War Two of an excellence in production. After the war, Chris-Craft continued to succeed in boat sales and left a wake in the small towns where it helped with the war efforts. There are still monuments in these towns commemorating Chris-Crafts impact.

Source 1. Rodengen, J. L. (1988). “The legend of Chris-Craft.” Fort Lauderdale, Fla: Write Stuff Syndicate.

Source 2. Mollica, A. S., & Smith, C. (2010). “Building Chris-Craft: Inside the factories.”

Source 3. Gribbins, J. (2001). “Chris-Craft: A history, 1922-1942.” Marblehead, Mass: Devereux Books.

Source 4. Suhs, Mardi. 2018. “Chris-Craft Cadillac produced the landing craft for D-Day”. Cadillac News. June 6.

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