Marine News from the Great Lakes

History And Boat Building In Holland, Michigan

Published: Monday, June 25, 2018

Boats Made in Holland: A Michigan Tradition is a new book featuring the men and women who produced watercraft with creativity, skillful hands, financial resources, and cooperation. It also illustrates the area’s rich and long history of successful companies that produced pleasure boats, working boats, and military craft out of wood, steel, aluminum, and fiberglass. Companies succeeded by working together toward a common goal, maintaining spiritual practices, and commitment to family.

The Holland area has benefited from the creation of many small boat building enterprises, starting in the 1940s and continuing through today. In 1939, the Chris-Craft Corporation came to Holland, changing the landscape of the boating industry with their second and largest plant. They went on to purchase a small, locally-owned steel cruiser company and changed how steel, and later aluminum, boats were made and marketed. Chris-Craft was also the training ground for countless employees that eventually left the company as craftsmen to work in or begin their own successful companies. In the late 1950s, Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP) completely changed boat building for companies like the Slick Craft Boat Company and allowed them to continue to grow into today’s high regarded S2 Yachts, Inc., maker of Tiara and Pursuit brand boats.

From the very beginning of boat building in Holland, family has played a key role in the success or failure of the boat factory. Large and small companies started with husbands and wives who had dreams to make boats designed by their tastes, built by their hands, and sold via their relationships with others. Many of these families disintegrated from the stress of making and losing money, time away from one another, and the loss of confidence. A few stuck to ideals, even during the worst of times, and persevered with attention to their spiritual life and being accountable to their coworkers, customers, and themselves.

Much like the history of industry around the nation, small shops competed with larger firms and lost a share of the market, which reduced hundreds of small companies to just a few conglomerates today. This book tells the stories of their innovation, struggles and achievements, and provides the reader with an understanding of one of Holland, Michigan’s largest local industries, along with a sense of the industrious spirit that helped create their community.

The book is available from The History Press at

This article first appeared in the Launch Issue (May/Jun) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Antique & Classic Boats, Books & Charts, History, Lake Michigan

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