CADILLAC BOAT HISTORY
22 July 2010
Cadillac Marine & Boat Company of Cadillac, Michigan started in September 1953 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Wagemaker Company. Boat builder Wagemaker of Grand Rapids, Michigan also owned U.S. Molded Shapes, Inc. and Mr. Raymond O. Wagemaker was president of all three firms. The Cadillac Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in luring the boat firm to the city. Across town was a branch plant of Chris-Craft that opened up in 1941.
Cadillac made aluminum fishing boats and runabouts. U.S. Molded Shapes made molded veneer boat hulls for Wagemaker which finished them and marketed the boats as Wagemaker Wolverine. Cadillac also made wooden boats with hulls from U.S. Molded Shapes.
Between December 1953 and August 1955 Cadillac made 5,300 boats. A production of 7,000 boats annually was not uncommon in subsequent years.
A January 1955 full page ad by Cadillac appeared in The Boating Industry trade magazine. They were promoting aluminum, molded wood, and strip-built boats. A photo of their large 100,000 square foot modern plant was prominent in the ad.
Wagemaker Company started Empire Boats, Inc. of Frankfort, New York in 1955 to make aluminum, molded veneer, and fiberglass pleasure boats. They were attempting to cover all bases by having wood, aluminum, and fiberglass watercraft in their product mix.
185 Cadillac workers were on strike in July 1956. Two of the strikers were arrested and held in jail on August seventh with charges of malicious destruction of property on the plant grounds. They were accused of turning on fire suppression sprinklers which damaged office files and plant equipment to the tune of $10,000.
A $750,000 fire wiped out the Wagemaker plant at Grand Rapids in February 1957. One thousand five hundred hulls were destroyed in addition to production space and equipment. A great deal of production of wooden boats was shifted to Cadillac Marine and Boat Co. To cover all markets, Cadillac added fiberglass boats to their product line in 1959.
Probably one of the wildest boats ever conceived was the sixteen-foot Sea Lark. Industrial design Brooks Stevens was on retainer with Evinrude Motors for many years. He was commissioned to design an annual feature boat on which Evinrude could hang their newest motor. It was displayed with great fan fair at the annual Chicago and New York international boat shows. The boat was not necessarily intended to be built for public consumption. It was a means for Evinrude to gain great publicity for their outboard motors. In 1957 Brooks came up with the Sea Lark to promote the new 35 horse power Lark outboard motor. The boat had a molded wood hull with fiberglass deck and aluminum trim. It was a marriage of the three boat building operations owned by Ray Wagemaker. The sporty two seat speedster had massive fins and featured twin bubble windshields. As far as can be determined, Cadillac made two of these boats. One has been discovered and is the coveted possession of a classic boat collector today.
The boat firm first filed for trademark protection of “Cadillac” on October 28, 1955 and it was published in the Official U.S. Patent Register in March 1956. A month later General Motors filed an opposition with the Patent and Trademark Office. Going a step further, General Motors filed a lawsuit against Cadillac Marine & Boat Co. in February 1957 claiming the auto maker had rights to the name "Cadillac" and they wanted the boat builder to cease and desist using the name. In 1964 a federal court slapped the automaker's hands and said they did not have a monopoly on the name Cadillac. GM was ordered to pay $41,000 to the boat maker for legal fees and loss of reputation.
Cadillac Boat had a full page ad in The Boating Industry in May 1958. They pictured and describe aluminum, combination of aluminum and fiberglass, and molded wood boats. They were promoted as the “sweetest boat afloat.” Wagemaker also had a full page ad and U.S. Molded Shapes had half a page of advertising space in the issue.
Thirty workers were back on the job in March 1960 after the plant being closed for one month.
On April 15, 1960 Ray Wagemaker sold all his boat operations to three men: Walter E. Schottt, Jr.; Charles J. Schott; and Harrison O. Ash. The Schott's also owned Lyman Boat Works of Sandusky, Ohio through their Curtis Manufacturing business. Operations of Wagemaker Wolverine and U.S. Molded Shapes were shifted to Cadillac Marine & Boat Co. after a $250,000 fire hit the U.S. Molded Shapes plant about April 23, 1960, just days after the sale. The former B.F. Goodrich plant at Cadillac was secured for production space.
Harrison Ash gained complete control of Wagemaker, Cadillac, and U.S. Molded Shapes in April 1961. He changed the business names to Ash-Craft Company at that time.
U.S. Molded Shapes, Inc. at Cadillac, Michigan was on the auction block on Tuesday 10 October 10, 1961. The machinery and brand name and good will were purchased by Chicago businessmen Frank Zale and Jerry Fencl. Fencl was head of Delta Boat and Marine Sales of Oaklawn, a builder of wooden boats. They had been obtaining their hulls from the Cadillac operation. Fencl’s brother Milo operated MiloCraft Boats of Chicago, another builder of molded veneer boats.
Only a few months later, in January 1962, U.S. Molded Shapes was sold to Kenneth Zick of Charlotte, Michigan. Eighteen workers were on the payroll at the time.
U.S. Molded Shapes of Cadillac was advertising in the January 1962 issue of The Boating Industry. Ash-Craft, makers of Wolverine and Cadillac Boats, had a four page, full colour brochure inserted in the magazine.
Ash was attempting to move all the boat production to West Virginia under another one of his firm umbrellas, New-Kanawha Industrial Corp. in 1961. On November 2, 1962 all the firms owned by Ash filed for bankruptcy.
It cannot determine if boats were ever built in West Virginia. It is not know when boats were no longer being built by Cadillac in Michigan.
When the federal court awarded "Cadillac Marine and Boat Co." the $41,000 in 1964 in the failed suit brought by General Motors, it is unknown who got that money. Was it Mr. Ash or was there a corporate shell of Cadillac Marine still around or did it go to the bankruptcy referee or trustee?