From Craft to Industry: The Boat Builders of Holland features the men and women who produced watercraft with creativity, skillful hands, financial resources, and by working together. It also illustrates the area’s rich and long history of successful companies, both large and small, which produced sailing ships, pleasure boats, working boats, and military craft. Companies succeeded by working together toward a common goal, maintaining spiritual practices, and commitment to family.
The story behind the success of watercraft building in the area, be it sailing ships, rowing skiffs, gas powered launches, military craft, sailing yachts, or fast powerboats, starts with the people who created each and every design. From the very beginning, in 1836, the need for a Great Lakes ship to move locally made products out of the area and to cash paying consumers around Lake Michigan gave local craftsman a reason to build sailing ships hewn from locally grown timber. At the same time, builders of small pleasure craft began to market their products to local resort owners so that their guests could enjoy the nearby lakes. At the beginning of the 20th century, local craftsman constructed pleasure craft with marine engines to give passengers a less strenuous day on the lake. Many local craftsmen, eager to become successful entrepreneurs, created pleasure, military and work vessels from wood, steel, concrete, aluminum, and fiberglass. Most eventually failed because of death, disease, and disintegration of family, or debt in changing economic times.
Much like the history of industry around the nation, as boat craftsmen in small shops competed with larger firms, they lost a share of the market, which reduced hundreds of small companies to just a few conglomerates today. Their personal stories demonstrate how difficult it was to be successful for long periods of time, especially when faced with fluctuating economic cycles and lack of financial resources. Hopefully, the stories of their innovation, struggles, and achievements will provide Hollanders with an understanding of one of our earliest local industries, and a sense of the industrious spirit which helped create our community.