1932 Chris-Craft Runabout fleet.

By Rachel Conley, Chris-Craft Archivist, The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, Virginia

In 1986, The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia, was extremely fortunate to receive the Chris-Craft company archives for boats made from 1922 through 1982. While the donation did not include all of the records produced during those six decades, it is considered one of the most complete histories of a boatbuilding company. Having the archives at the Museum is an honor, and creating access to the materials for researchers and Chris-Craft enthusiasts alike has always been the mission. In the last several years, digitization efforts have allowed staff to dive into what the Collection offers and share that with the public.


Chris-Craft boat equipment record from Chris-Craft Archives.

Boat Equipment Record for D-17-212, a 1954 17-foot Runabout courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, Virginia.

One of the most requested and unique items is the boat equipment record, also called the hull card. Each boat that Chris-Craft assembled was given a unique hull identification number, and each number has a corresponding hull card. Many hull cards for the earlier boats are missing, but some of the gaps have been filled in from the early company ledgers. The hull card documented each boat as it left the factory and is typically the only information available regarding an individual boat. It usually includes a list of equipment shipped with the boat, the original engine, upholstery colors, model number or boat type, where and when it was shipped, and sometimes special notes.  Starting in the late 1970s, the boat equipment records were compiled into a ledger instead of each boat having an individual card. Once a boat left the factory, Chris-Craft did not keep track of its whereabouts.


Drawing of 1930-1931 26-foot Chris-Craft Runabout

1930-1931 Deck arrangement and profile 26-foot Runabout. Drawing number 303 courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, Virginia.

Technical drawings are another important part of the Collection, especially for those who are working on their boat. While the Museum has drawings for most of the boats, what is available varies from model to model. Some of the most common are shop drawings (top-down and side views of the boat showing technical information), hull lines (showing the lofting of the hull), and deck arrangement and profiles (top-down and side views of the boat, including the interior layout). These can help understand a boat’s layout. For ease of access, lists of what drawings are available for each boat have been compiled and can be provided upon request.


Sketch drawing of 1964 Chris-Craft Super Sport seat detai.

1964 18-foot Super Sport seat detail. BMS50392 courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, Virginia.

Between the sales catalogs (1925-1988) and more than 25,000 production and sales photographs, the Museum has an image of just about every boat built between 1922 and 1982. The photographs were often used for marketing purposes, and they show the boats on the water, many times with models, including the famous Chris-Craft girls, aboard. Other images show various Chris-Craft plants, early boat shows, celebrities aboard the boats, and myriad aspects of the manufacturing process. The photographs are black and white, but some used in sales catalogs were colorized. Many of the early sales catalogs were also in black and white, but starting in the late 1940s they began to incorporate more color to enhance the presentation of the boats. The Collection does not contain color samples, so these colorized images are sometimes the only reference to actual colors. The catalogs would also briefly describe each boat’s features and available equipment.


1942 36-foot WWII Chris-Craft Landing Craft.

1942 36-foot WWII 8000th Landing Boat. PI2274 courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, Virginia.

Chris-Craft is known for its pleasure craft, but during World War II, the company stopped producing these boats and began making vessels to support the war effort. The exact number of boats they made for the government is unknown, but it is well over 8,000. These include 36-foot landing craft, 52-foot rescue boats, 36-foot picket boats, 42-foot command boats, and many more. Our Archives houses boxes of Chris-Craft’s WWII-era material containing contracts between the government and Chris-Craft, specifications for many boats, a handful of drawings, and photographs depicting various aspects of construction and completed craft. Within these boxes lie great stories of Chris-Craft’s involvement during the war.

Beyond what is available in the Archives, the Museum is fortunate to have several 3D items in the Collection, including three Chris-Craft boats, currently on display in the International Small Craft Center. Sue is a 1935 19-foot runabout whose hull series was made from 1935-1938. Miss Belle Isle is a 1923-1925 26-foot runabout. (The 26-foot runabouts, produced from 1922-1930, were Chris-Craft’s first mass-produced boats.) Simokon is a 1929 38-foot custom commuter, the first cabin cruiser made by the company between 1929-1933. All in good condition, these boats showcase the fine craftsmanship that ensured Chris-Craft’s popularity and established its legacy in American boatbuilding and maritime recreation.

For those seeking information about Chris-Craft, copies of materials from the Collection, including photographs, drawings, hull cards, and sales catalogs, are available for purchase from the Museum. Among the most popular items is the research packet — copies of a boat’s hull card, sales literature, price sheets, original engine material, and photographs. To learn more, contact Rachel Conley at chriscraft@marinersmuseum.org or (757) 591-7781.

Visit The Mariners’ Museum Chris-Craft Research page at https://www.marinersmuseum.org.


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