Thompson Brothers Boat Manufacturing Company

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Thompson catalog cover 1920.jpg
Thompson Hiawatha model canoe Thompson hiawatha 1.jpg
Thompson Hiawatha model canoe

The Thompson Brothers Boat Manufacturing Company of Peshtigo, Wisconsin was a manufacturer of pleasure boats and canoes. Founded by brothers Peter and Christ Thompson in 1904, [1] the company became prominent in the field and built boats for nearly one hundred years. [2] The Thompson Antique & Classic Boat Rally celebrates the company's history with a boat show every other year [3] and in 2013 the Thompson Brothers canoe was celebrated at the Annual Assembly of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association. [4]

Peshtigo, Wisconsin City in Wisconsin, United States

Peshtigo is a city in Marinette County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 3,502 at the 2010 census. The city is surrounded by the Town of Peshtigo. It is part of the Marinette, WI–MI Micropolitan Statistical Area. Peshtigo is most famous as the site of the Peshtigo Fire of 1871, in which more than 1,200 people perished.

Canoe light boat that is paddled

A canoe is a lightweight narrow vessel, typically pointed at both ends and open on top, propelled by one or more seated or kneeling paddlers facing the direction of travel using a single-bladed paddle.



Early years

The Thompson family came from Denmark and settled at Racine, Wisconsin. About 1899 they moved to undeveloped farmland near Peshtigo.

Denmark constitutional monarchy in Europe

Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, is a Nordic country and the southernmost of the Scandinavian nations. Denmark lies southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and is bordered to the south by Germany. The Kingdom of Denmark also comprises two autonomous constituent countries in the North Atlantic Ocean: the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark proper consists of a peninsula, Jutland, and an archipelago of 443 named islands, with the largest being Zealand, Funen and the North Jutlandic Island. The islands are characterised by flat, arable land and sandy coasts, low elevation and a temperate climate. Denmark has a total area of 42,924 km2 (16,573 sq mi), land area of 42,394 km2 (16,368 sq mi), and the total area including Greenland and the Faroe Islands is 2,210,579 km2 (853,509 sq mi), and a population of 5.8 million.

Racine, Wisconsin City in Wisconsin, United States

Racine is a city in and the county seat of Racine County, Wisconsin, United States. It is located on the shore of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Root River. Racine is located 22 miles south of Milwaukee. As of the 2010 U.S. census, the city had a population of 78,860, making it the fifth-largest city in Wisconsin. Its median home price of $103,625 makes it one of the most affordable cities in Wisconsin to buy a home. In January 2017, it was rated "the most affordable place to live in the world" by the Demographia International Housing Affordability survey.

The Thompson Brothers firm started operations at Peshtigo in the early months of 1904. Peter and Christian (Christ) Thompson, the elder brothers of a large family, made their first wooden boat in the hayloft of the family barn in early 1904. Local lumber was used, harvested in along the banks of the Peshtigo River. The first product was a modified lapstrake canoe, dubbed the "Anti-Leak" canoe by the brothers.

Hayloft space above barn-building or stable agricultural

A hayloft is a space above a barn, stable or cow-shed, traditionally used for storage of hay or other fodder for the animals below. Haylofts were used mainly before the widespread use of very large hay bales, which allow simpler handling of bulk hay.

Peshtigo River tributary of Green Bay, Wisconsin

The Peshtigo River is a 136-mile-long (219 km) tributary of Green Bay in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. The Peshtigo Fire happened in the river's vicinity, and some survivors used the river for refuge from the flames. A section of whitewater on the river called the Roaring Rapids is well known in the region. Further downstream there are two dams known as Caldron Falls Dam and High Falls Dam before collecting the Thunder River.

Clinker (boat building) method of boat building

Clinker built is a method of boat building where the edges of hull planks overlap each other. Where necessary in larger craft shorter planks can be joined end to end into a longer strake or hull plank. The technique developed in northern Europe and was successfully used by the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians, Scandinavians, and typical for the Hanseatic cog. A contrasting method, where plank edges are butted smoothly seam to seam, is known as carvel construction.

Thompson badge on ogee-style deck Thompson deck with nameplate.jpg
Thompson badge on ogee-style deck

Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. was incorporated in 1912. By that time, six Thompson brothers were involved: Peter, Christ, Edward, Theodore, Adolh (Tom), and Richard. Their sister Hanna (Johanna) was office manager. A new factory complex was built within the city limits of Peshtigo in 1912 and the operation was moved from the cramped quarters at the Thompson farm, a few miles north of town. Thompson soon became the largest builder of outboard boats in the world [5] and in 1924 a branch factory was secured in Cortland, New York. [6] [7]

Office management is a profession involving the design, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of the process of work within an office or other organization, in order to sustain and improve efficiency and productivity.

Factory facility where goods are made, or processed

A factory or manufacturing plant is an industrial site, usually consisting of buildings and machinery, or more commonly a complex having several buildings, where workers manufacture goods or operate machines processing one product into another.

Cortland, New York City in New York, United States

Cortland is a city in Cortland County, New York, United States of America. Known as the Crown City, Cortland is located in New York's Southern Tier region. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 19,204. It is the county seat of Cortland County.

alternate deck style: a simple curve Thompson hiawatha deck.jpg
alternate deck style: a simple curve

Middle years

In 1953 second generation Thompson family men (Ray, Glenn, Roy, Grant, Bob, and Ted, Jr.) started Cruisers, Inc., a builder of wooden lapstrake boats at Oconto, Wisconsin. Cruisers was formed with the full knowledge, encouragement, and cooperation of the elder Thompson men and Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. In fact, for the first year of operation, Cruisers, Inc. made boats for Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. which were badged with the "Thompson" logo.

Oconto, Wisconsin City in Wisconsin, United States

Oconto is a city in Oconto County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 4,513 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Green Bay Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city is located partially within the town of Oconto.

By the mid 1950s Thompson Bros. Boat switched from primarily making cedar strip built hulls to plywood lapstrake boats. The greater horsepower outboard motors were better suited to the very strong yet lightweight lapstrake hulls.

Plywood manufactured wood panel made from thin sheets of wood veneer

Plywood is a material manufactured from thin layers or "plies" of wood veneer that are glued together with adjacent layers having their wood grain rotated up to 90 degrees to one another. It is an engineered wood from the family of manufactured boards which includes medium-density fibreboard (MDF) and particle board (chipboard).

Horsepower unit of power

Horsepower (hp) is a unit of measurement of power, or the rate at which work is done. There are many different standards and types of horsepower. Two common definitions being used today are the mechanical horsepower, which is about 745.7 watts, and the metric horsepower, which is approximately 745.5 watts.

Effective 1 January 1959 the three boat operations owned by the Thompson family at Peshtigo, Cortland, and Oconto were split amongst family branches. Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. at Peshtigo became property of Ray Thompson and family. The former branch at Cortland, New York became Thompson Boat Company of New York, Inc. with ownership in the hands of brothers Bob and Ted Thompson, Jr. and their cousin Glenn Thompson. Brothers Roy and G.Grant Thompson gained sole ownership of Cruisers at Oconto. All three firms made wooden lapstrake outboard boats. [6] [7]

In 1960 Glenn Thompson decided to return to Wisconsin and venture out on his own. He established T & T Boats, Inc. and a factory was built in Wausaukee, Wisconsin. T & T also made wooden lapstrake outboard and inboard/outboard boats. It lasted until a liquidation auction signaled the firm's end in May 1965.

Thompson Bros. Boat at Peshtigo was one of the earliest boatbuilders to embrace the new inboard/outboard propulsion unit that was introduced to the boating public at the New York Boat Show in early 1959. Volvo Penta of Sweden was the first to make a practical inboard/outboard engine and outdrive. By the summer of 1959 Thompson was installing these in their 17-ft. Sea Lancer and 19-ft. Off-Shore models as options. [8]

The transition from wood to fiberglass at all the Thompson operated boat firms was difficult. The family resisted the switch and felt that any high quality wooden boat could out perform, outlast, and outsell fiberglass; however, the 1960s consumer shied away from wood and purchased fiberglass or aluminum pleasure boats, and sales plummeted. [6] [7]

Twilight years

Thompson Boat Company of New York, Inc. of Cortland, New York was purchased by Chris-Craft Industries in January 1962 and it became a wholly owned subsidiary. An immediate program of fiberglass boat development began. This initiative created the Corsair fiberglass division of Chris-Craft. The Corsair boats were made by Thompson Boat Company of New York in Cortland.

In late 1964 Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. at Peshtigo, Wisconsin subcontracted with Crownline, Inc. of Cairo, Illinois to have the latter make fiberglass boats for them. This was a low cost means for Thompson to get an abbreviated line of fiberglass boats to supplement their wooden boat line. The arrangement did not last long as Crownline was having major financial difficulties. When Crownline closed down, Peter Thompson - the grandson of the original Peter Thompson - and another team member went to Cairo and retrieved the Thompson molds and tooling. It was too little and too late. The Thompson creditors in 1966 forced the sale of the company and Saul Padek got control of all the stock for less than $4,000 cash layout. The Thompson family was out of the boat business at Peshtigo.

Under Padek's ownership Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. declared chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 1966. Padek began the slow painful switch from wood to fiberglass and by 1969 the last wooden boat rolled out of the plant at Peshtigo. [6] [7]

Cruisers, Inc. also resisted the change from wood to RFP. Grant Thompson researched markets, production methods, designs, and costs. Slowly they began making some fiberglass products. The relationships they had made with other boat makers over the years paid off. Cruisers, Inc. was able to get licensing deals with other entrenched fiberglass builders. This helped ease them from wood to glass. By 1967 they had dropped all wooden boats from their product line. The financial loss was significant. The company went from one of the most successful in the industry to just barely hanging on in a matter of a few years. The rebuilding took many years. Today, this is the only Thompson originated boat firm that still operates. It is called Cruisers Yachts and is a division of KCS International. [9]

T & T Boats of Wausaukee never made fiberglass boats. A liquidation auction in May 1965 signalled their demise. Chris-Craft closed the Cortland plant in 1974 which had been a Thompson operation.

Thompson Boat at Peshtigo went bankrupt and closed in 1980. A Thompson dealer in the Detroit area bought the assets from the bankruptcy court and the entire operation was moved from Peshtigo to St. Charles, Michigan that year. 76 years of boat building tradition at Peshtigo came to an end.

The revitalized Thompson Boat at St. Charles slowly rebuilt, but bankruptcy was declared in 1993. A new owner came in and got the firm going again. By about 1997 regular production ceased and all boat production stopped by 2000 or 2001. A liquidation auction in 2002 signaled the end of almost 100 years of boat building history. [6] [7]

The 2013 Assembly of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association featured Thompson Brothers canoes. [4]

Thompson canoe models

inside of Hiawatha model showing half-ribs and stringers Thompson hiawatha 3 with stringers.jpg
inside of Hiawatha model showing half-ribs and stringers

Thompson boats

Thompson marketed boats of types that reflected the evolving desires of consumers: skiffs, duck boats, a variety of fishing boats, racing boats, sailboats, various boats for the military during World War II, and small cruisers. Their signature boat was the lapstrake lake runabout of the 1950s and 60's. [11]

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Boat vessel for transport by water

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Outboard motor self-contained propulsion system for boats

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Runabout (boat) boat type

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Outboard Marine Corporation 1998 power trim

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  1. "Thompson Brothers". 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  2. Rhude, Andreas Jordahl. "The Thompson Boat Company: Celebrating a 98 Year Tradition". Vintage Boating Life, January–February 2003, pp. 24–29.
  3. Rhude, Andreas Jordahl. "Thompson Rally". Classic Boating, November/December 2006, pp.12–15.
  4. 1 2 Scroll to poster at
  5. Rhude, Andreas Jordahl. "Thompson Boats: From Working Class Hero to Treasured Classic". The Rudder, Summer 2005, pp. 12–13.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Rhude, Andreas Jordahl. "The Thompsons and Their Boats". Classic Boating, September/October 1999, pp. 10–15.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Rhude, Andreas Jordahl. "Thomspons and Their Boats". Marinette County Historian, Fall 2004, pp. 1–5.
  8. Rhude, Andreas Jordahl. "Thompson Marine Enterprises". The Boathouse, April 1998, pp. 12–15.
  9. Rhude, Andreas Jordahl. "Thompson-Cruisers Boats Gather". Vintage Boating Life, September–October 2003, pp. 24–26.
  10. Miller, Daniel, Dragonfly Canoe Works: Discovering the History of Wooden Canoes, Thompson Brothers (citation applies to all Thompson models).
  11. 1 2 The Thompson Dockside

Further reading