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Defoe Shipbuilding Company (1905-1972)
Aka: Defoe Boat and Motor Works.
Aricles and advertisements during its existence.

Preface: Bay City, Mich., developed a reputation early on in its history of being a shipbuilding community, beginning with several small ship yards, and followed later by three major shipbuilders; James Davidson, Frank W. Wheeler and Harry J. Defoe. Detailed histories on each are available in the Heritage/Business section.

1908 article "standardization." - Added Dec., 2010.

The Rudder, Vol. 35, 1908.


Every so often some gets up at an American marine meeting and talks about standardizing and the lack of it in the marine industry. Numerous articles have been written, mostly by those not engaged in manufacturing, about building both boats and engines in quantity, particular boats, but it has remained up to the practical boat-builder to really apply the theory and the application has been more of a matter of evolution and actual experience than theory. “American methods of boat-building applied to the large seagoing freighters have astounded the master builders of the world, while to a lesser degree (because of the lack of demand, which, however, is now accruing) the building of the smaller freighters and passenger vessels has also been a matter of much thought and careful planning. Through the efforts of various American naval architects, who have devoted their talents to wholesome commercial designs and to the application of some of the boat-builders is due the production of a number of boats of a one-design class, from one set of permanent mounds, and this idea has made practical the shipment of vessels in knock-down form to distant countries for assembly.

Among the builders to carry out this idea is the Defoe Boat & Motor Works of Bay City, Mich., who have for a number of years produced knockdown power boats, and who are now devoting a portion of their energies to the construction of a series of commercial power boats for use on one of the inland lakes of Mexico. One of the series is a 68x14-foot passenger vessel of the cruiser type, which will be employed on Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, touching at the lake ports and effecting a connection with the Mexican national railway lines of Chapala. The lake is 60 miles long east and west and 40 miles wide north and south, almost a perfect oval in shape, and more than a mile high in the Mexican mountains. The railroad and the boats will, for the first time, bring the district into modern communication with the outside world. That similar inland bodies of water are common in undeveloped sections of South America, the Orient and Africa is well known and it is chiefly a matter of acquainting those interested in the development of these districts with the possibilities of having a standardized boat shipped in transportable sections to the district in order to effect a rapid growth of this industry.

The Defoe vessels will, of course, be shipped overland in sections and completed, as it is not anticipated that any difficulties will be encountered in reassembling, but a representative of the engine builder will journey to Mexico to superintend the installation of the engine.

The Model FH six-cylinder 35-85-h.p. Sterling has been selected, and because of the scarcity of refined fuel it is expected that distillate or a mixture of gasolene and kerosene will be used. A speed of 10 miles an hour or better will be maintained. The engines, too, are standardized, even to the reverse gear, which on these heavy-duty engines is built to handle a commercial vessel with ease during the frequent maneuvering when making a landing

Due to up-to-date manufacturing methods it is possible to sell some of the American-made engines at considerably below the European price for equivalent power, not

to overlook the better appearance of the American engine, and, in some cases, the employment of drop forgings for the main wearing parts on which the strain is move constant.

1908 article - Added Dec., 2010.

Power Boating, Vol. 4, 1908.


“We are not the originators of the boat pattern system! “ is the rather remarkable assertion of the DeFoe Boat and Motor Works, of Bay City, Mich.; “but” they continue, “we have been building boats for a time considerably longer than the pattern business has existed.”

The Defoe company closely observed the birth and growth of this remarkable business and after studying its products and methods, profited by the mistakes of others and applied its best principles to their long experience as boat builders with the result that the Defoe pattern business in its two years' existence has grown with greater strides in that time.

This company manufactures an extensive line of completed boats of all classes, and is bringing out new ideas which they work into their pattern department. The factory is situated on the river front, and every new design brought out is given a thorough test in the water before it is placed upon the market. They offer 40 models of completed boats, and patterns and frames from each design are shipped in short notice.

Prominent among their completed boats is an 18-foot launch, complete in every way and fitted with a two-horsepower motor for $125. This boat is capable of a speed of seven miles per hour, and is a very good sea boat for one of its size. They should prove interesting to prospective boat buyers because of its low cost.

1910 article "pattern boats." - Added Dec., 2010.

Motor Boats: Construction and Operation, 1910.


Bay City, Michigan, is conceded to have been the birth-place of the pattern system and there it has been developed from a mere experiment into a business of gigantic proportions – and this, it is claimed, by the inherent merits of the boat pattern idea. The system is now a demonstrated success and large boat-building concerns in the eastern states, as well as the pioneers of the Middle West, now furnish excellent boat patterns for the use of amateur builders.

During the period of development some of the defects in boat pattern systems have been due to the patterns themselves, but more often to the fact that boats from which they were taken were not designed with a view of securing patterns of the greatest simplicity and which would present the least difficulties to the amateur in the reproduction of the craft.

After years of careful study and experiment the leaders in the industry have incorporated into their methods, both as to patterns and knock-down frames and boats, those features which have commended themselves to the trade and have demonstrated their practicality and excellence after years of trial, and have added thereto such new ideas as they have gained by years of experience, observation and experiment. Their pattern are not taken from models built promiscuously for a number of years, but every set of patterns is taken from a boat constructed for the purpose of obtaining the simplest and most perfect patterns involving the least possible difficulties for

Built From Defoe Patterns.

The amateur in their use, in the construction of a boat which, when completed, will embody the latest and most approved ideas of design and construction.

The DeFoe Boat and Motor Works of Bay City, Mich., well known among the boatbuilders of the Great Lakes, explaining the boat pattern system say:

“We have endeavored to make our pattern system a system in fact, not only as to the construction and use of the patterns, but in the design and method of construction of the boats from which they are taken. While there is no real reason under our system why he cannot build a large boat as easily as a small one, yet the amateur builder, as a rule, first undertakes the construction of a small boat and then almost invariably builds a larger one the next season. But if every size and style of boat is constructed on wholly different principles and by different methods, the experience gained in the construction of the first boat will be of little assistance in building the second. Under our modern system, however, every boat we build, either

DeFoe Speed Launch No. 630.

large or small, and regardless of the style, is built upon the same general plan or system. Thus the stern, keel, pipilog, and other portions of the frame are always made and put together in the same way, and the same general method is followed in planking, etc.

“This is a vast improvement, and one which puts the modern system a good long stride in advance. For when the amateur has built his first boat by this system he can build a second, regardless of size or design, with scarcely a reference to the instruction sheets and illustrations, make a great saving in time and expense, as he will know from his first experience the position and fastening of every part of the frame, and manner in which it is set up, and the method of planking and completing the hull.

“Man of our customers, we find, get their boats free in a novel manner. They first build a boat and sell it and with the proceeds purchase patterns and possibly a motor for the second outfit for their own use. Others got a step farther and turn a good business in this way, and come in for a fair discount from our prices by ordering patterns or frames in lots of half dozen at a time.”

Paper Patterns.

The amateur then may purchase, from a concern like that mentioned above, simply the paper patterns and do

all the work himself. Remember, patterns are not blue prints to scale, but are full sized pattern for every piece in the boat.

For example, you are given a full sized pattern for the keel. This you lay upon your plank and mark out the keel. There can be no mistake. In the same way you cut every piece of the hull, planking and all, as there is a separate pattern for every piece and every plank.

The blue print idea has been tried and found wanting, as it naturally would, except in the hands of a skilled mechanic and boatbuilder, and even there, it is claimed, it falls short of equaling the pattern system.

With every set of DeFoe patterns are included a full instructions and illustrations for doing the work. These are printed on a large sheet of paper that may be tacked against the wall of your shop. This sheet is complete in every detail and worded in such a manner, and with the illustrations so plain, that any man or boy can work by it without the slightest trouble. Remember, this is not a technical sheet, but is worded in the simplest, everyday language, with illustrations that could not be misunderstood. This sheet contains also full instructions for painting and varnishing and all finishing work, how to mix your stains and fillers, and how to put them on for the best possible results.

  • The fullmagazine can be viewed on [Google Books].

    1922 advertisement, "knock-down." - Added Dec., 2010.

    The Rudder, Vol. 38, 1922.


    During the war period the Defoe Co. of Bay City built a shipyard and constructed a number of vessels in steel for the U. S. Government. The yard is equipped with every modern appliance for steel work and in addition to their steel shop, they are building a new shop, one of the largest int he country and are prepared to build yachts in wood or steel up to 150 feet in length. They will also continue to build their well-known use of knock-down huts in wood and steel for home and export use.

    1943 - Advertisement, "750 Ton Flapjack." - Added Dec., 2010.

    Popular Mechanics – Nov, 1943.

    750 Ton Flapjack

    History was made when the destroyer escort, U.S.S. Bunch, was “rolled over” successfully at the Defoe Shipbuilding yards at Bay City, Michigan. For this was the first time a steel-welded ship more than 300 feet long and weighing over 700 tons had been built upside down.

    The same engineering feat that made it possible to build the U.S.S. Bunch in record time is producing an every increasing fleet of sister ships – many of which are already in service with the Navy on the high seas.

    Defoe's unique “flapjack trick” with ocean-going warships does away with conventional ship scaffolding and allows workers to stand over their job at all times. Defoe construction methods deliver twice the production per man hour resulting in double the number of ships built at half the labor cost per vessel.

    Resourcefulness in developing new methods and shortcuts to speed delivery of ships to the Navy is typical of Defoe engineering tradition. And when our fighting men and their allies have dealt a knock out to the Axis, the same competitive spirit, skilled workmanship and “know-how” that are now setting records in producing for Victory, will be reflected in every greater values of Defoe products to serve peacetime America.

    1943 WWII advertisement, "roll over." - Added Dec., 2010.

    Popular Science – Dec. 1943.

    How Defoe Turns Things Upside Down
    To Double Production of Warships!

    With record-breaking frequency, these days, flashing axes bite through stay-hawsers on the launching ways of the Defoe Shipbuilding Company at Bay City, Michigan ... sending another and another destroyer escort ship for the Navy sliding down to blue water.

    These are the famous DE fighting ships whose terrific execution among the U-boat wolf packs has helped bring the submarine menace under control. Welded into one 750-ton piece of steel, more than 300 feet in length, the sturdy hard-hitting DE type ships are built upside down and then “rolled over” in their cradles to complete their equipment. This unique Defoe method of building ocean – going ships, eliminates the need of conventional ship scaffolding and by enabling workers to stand over the job from beginning to end gives remarkable advantages in saving time and labor costs. Among results obtained by Defoe engineering methods is the doubling of production per man hour – with twice as many ships being built at half the labor cost per vessel.

    Until the Axis is defeated, the full facilities of the Defoe organization will be concentrated exclusively on all-out production for Victory..

    But tomorrow, when Peace is restored, the experience and improved techniques learned in war work will be used to create new high standards of quality, value and economy in finer products for the consumers of America.

    * * *
    Defoe workers take more than 10%
    of their pay in War Bonds.

    Three White Star Banner Citations now decorate
    the Navy “E” Award won by Defoe workers.

    1945 WII advertisement, "model homes." - Added Dec., 2010.

    Popular Science, Nov., 1945.

    With the final victory won, we now will be able to go ahead with the construction of the new Defoe Model Homes. Right now is the time to get your name on our mailing list so that you will receive one of the first Defoe catalogs.

    Into the building of these homes will go months of construction, research and experimentation, plus the modern techniques of practical design and compactness which Defoe engineers learned while building many different types of fighting ships for both the American and British navies.

    As fast as the completion of our final Navy contract will permit, Defoe will produce complete homes with advantages of beauty, comfort and livability heretofore unknown in their price range. There will be nothing stereotyped, extreme or fantastic in Defoe homes. They will combine convenience with a wide range of individual designs in houses large or small – yet they will bring you all of the economies made possible by volume production.

    It will pay you to investigate what Defoe will offer in your particular housing problem. Fill in the enclosed coupon and get it on the way to Defoe today.

    Additional Notes.

      1920 – The Rudder Marine Directory.

    • Defoe Boat & Motor Works, Bay City, Michigan:
    • President, H. J. Defoe
    • Vice-president, F. N. Defoe
    • Treasurer, Arnold H. Goss
    • Secretary and Manager, H. J. Defoe
    • Superintendent of Hull Dept., John Lind
    • Chief of Engine Dept., Hugh Cameron
    • Purchasing Agent, A. S. Defoe

      1921 - The Road to France, Vol. 1.

    • The contract for the so-called “junior” mine planters – eight boats, each 98 feet long – was taken by the Defoe Boat & Motor Works, of Bay City, Michigan, which also established a new yard.

  • Related Notes & Pages

    Harry J. Defoe

    Related pages:
    Defoe Shipbuilding
    {Defoe Shipyard Pictorial}
    People Referenced
    Cameron, Hugh
    Davidson, James
    Defoe, A.S.
    Defoe, F.N.
    Defoe, Harry J.
    Goss, Arnold H.
    Lind, John
    Wheeler, Frank W.
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City, MI
    Boat patterns
    Defoe Boat & Motor Works
    Defoe Model Homes
    Defoe Shipbuilding Co.
    Flap-jack method
    Jalisco, Mexico
    Knock-down boats
    Lake Chapala, Mexico
    Mexican National Ry.
    Navy "E" Award
    Ship U.S.S. Bunch
    South America
    War bonds
    White Star Banner
    World War II
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.