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The impact of aluminum canoes on the wooden canoe industry

Discussion in 'Research and History' started by Benson Gray, Nov 16, 2021.

  1. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I have been recently pondering the impact of aluminum canoes on the wooden canoe industry. The article at http://pineypaddlers.com/PP-Info/A-HTML/grumman-history/grummanhistory.htm quotes Eugene Buchanan, the editor of Paddler magazine saying "A 1975 brochure cited sales of m ore than 300,000 Grumman canoes in 30 years. Demand peaked in 1974 with sales of 33,000." The 1975 Grumman catalog at https://adirondack.pastperfectonline.com/library/AD8D3D73-4C02-4C2C-9709-648705449255 confirms this. The 1970 Grumman catalog at https://archive.org/details/grumman-boats-silver-year-catalog-1945-1970/mode/2up says "Just about 200,000 Grummans grace the waters of America and the world" on page two. If these numbers are all correct then Grumman was selling more than four times the estimated Old Town Canoe production during those 30 years. It is amazing that any wooden canoe builders survived through this upheaval.

    Benson
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2021
  2. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    For those of us who were dealers back in 1975, the market for Old Towns at that time was not really the wooden ones. We would put in something like a clear-finished Trapper, just to have a wooden one in the store ($830 retail - interest rates were still low, so you could sit on inventory for long periods without taking a beating on financing it) but the bulk of our orders would be the Old Town Royalex models - the 17'2" Tripper and 16' Camper in particular. The Carlton line (fiberglass but with vinyl rails instead of the FG's fiberglass upper structure) were also a possibility, and once in a while a decked Berrigan (which was an awfully nice boat) or the semi-decked Ojibway would show up in the rack. The other hot seller in that time period was the little 19 lb. fiberglass Rushton pack canoe. I have never seen folks who were basically killing time over their lunch hours impulse buy boats the way some did for the Rushtons.

    If you also had a Grumman dealer in the area, they were basically the enemy, and though it is fairly easy to point out the shortcomings of aluminum canoes, it's hard to dispute the fact that they can be maintenance free and damned durable. I have drastically more respect for a Grumman than I do for something like the Coleman abomination which followed them. I suppose that these days you might be able to consider the standard 17' Grumman a classic.
     
  3. OP
    OP
    Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Agreed, 1974 may have been the peak sales year for Grumman canoes but their market collapsed as quickly during the 1970s in the face of plastic as the wooden canoe market had during the 1940s in the face of aluminum. (The all wood canoe market did the same thing during the late 1890s in the face of wood and canvas canoes.) It has been said that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" and two pages of the 1979 Grumman catalog were devoted to fiberglass/frp and Royalex/abs models as shown below.

    The Coleman canoe was another curious option during that era. Page 259 of Canoes, A Natural History in North America by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims says "by 1974 Coleman was selling 20,000 canoes per year, by one estimate." Their RAM-X could arguably be called a skin on frame design since "the polyethylene skin needed to be stiffened with an aluminum frame, including gunwales and thwarts." Page 260 goes on to say "Old Town eventually matched the RAM-X model in 1985 with its Discovery series ... By the mid-1990s Old Town was selling nearly 15,000 plastic canoes per year and eventually claimed the Discovery was the number one-selling canoe in the world."

    Your comment that "you might be able to consider the standard 17' Grumman a classic" raises an interesting question for the WCHA. One option to help address the declining membership issue might be expanding the scope of the organization to include metal and plastic canoes. Ironically, the only canoe of mine that's currently on loan for display in a museum is a fiberglass Old Town Breakout FG model from 1969. It is one that my daughter wants to keep after I paddle off into the sunset.

    Benson



    Grumman-1979.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2021
  4. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    The 1st canoe we bought (back in 1974) was a 17 Grumman, used from a rental place (new was too expensive). IIRC we paid just under 200 for it.
    I used it for many years in the BW. Back then almost everything there was alum.
    We still have it, it's laying down at the shore ready to use, other then putting in a decent wood yoke, zero maintenance/attention.
    The worst thing that happened to it was a rotten birch tree fell on it.
    When/if we sell the cabin, it will be included.
     
  5. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    The first canoe I ever rode in was a 17' Grumman with another kid and his father at a Boy Scout campout. Despite being aluminum, I guess it still had enough magic to get my attention. A year or so later I earned my Canoeing merit badge at summer camp in a Grumman, but the guy who ran the waterfront had a 16' Old Town Guide - which REALLY caught my attention.

    My favorite aluminum canoe is this Osagian. The owner had me build a pair of junk-inspired balanced lugsails for it and he polished the canoe to a mirror finish. It's so crazy that it's cool. (except on a hot sunny day).
    Chinese Lugsails copy.jpg
     

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