Thompson identification/build characteristics

Dan Lindberg

Ex Wood Hoarder
Another recent Thompson project got me looking at the catalogs again,

And I see that the Indian (offered in 15, 16, 17 and 18’ lengths) was listed as having spruce gunwales from 1922 through 1942,

that the Hiawatha (offered in 16, 17 and 18’ lengths) was listed with spruce gunwales from 1921 to 1939, and mahogany from 1940 to 1943.

And the Camp model, offered in 1934 and 1936-37 (in 16 and 17’ lengths), was listed with mahogany gunwales, along with mahogany decks, seats and thwarts and built to US Forestry Specs.

For those who’ve seen more then a couple Thompsons, could/would these wood types/years be indicators of Thompson models, or did Thomson substitute woods enough to make this unreliable?


Hi Dan,

Dave Osborn noticed the same sort of thing, and created a matrix of wood use vs. year for the Hiawatha model. (Can be seen on the Wood Canoe Identification Guide at under Thompson Brothers). He included seats and thwarts as well as gunwales and got even finer divisions to help date a canoe.

Does it work? I don't know. It assumes Thompson changed its catalog promptly to reflect current practices, and that they held to the specifications during that time period. With the few I've seen, I'd guess it mostly works, but in the absence of any other confirming data (which for Thompson would have to pretty much be an accompanying bill of sale or other rock-hard provenance), it might be hard to prove it. Unfortunately, the Thompson Brothers didn't see fit to help us out with useful serial numbers, etc....

Hi Dan,

Ya, ID'ing Thompsons ????, :)

I recently got 2 Thompsons, a 17 ft'er and a 16 ft'er, both of these canoes have mahogany gunwales, thwarts and decks, (don't off-hand know about the seat frames). The 16' looks very much like the previous one I got except it "seems" to be a little bit flatter bottom and it has the mahogany gunwales, the previous one had spruce.

I was wondering if the Indian sometimes came with mahogany gunwales or if these 2 are both the Camp model, being that the Camp was only listed for 4 years it just doesn't seem very likely both are Camp models.

BTW, I was playing in the garage last night and removed some of that scrap wood from the "wreck" I got from you. It's in bad shape but sure has nice lines. :) It's going to be hung up for the winter this weekend.

Hmmm. Just noticed something. Go back and look at the Hiawatha model pages. Notice that at the top of the page it states boldly "Mahogany Trimmed". Yet, the materials description does not mention mahogany anywhere. This was written in by hand in 1929, and typeset every year thereafter. I expect this means that:

A) the Hiawatha model should be expected to have mahogany trim from 1929 on.

B) that there is no reason not to expect the Indian model to be the same, even though it is not mentioned in the catalog,

and C) maybe Dave's table won't prove to be all that useful. (Sorry, Dave...)

I've restored at least one Indian that had spruce rails, and another I had had mahogany rails. At least I assumed it was an Indian.

Seems to me I used to know when Thompson switched from a brass to an aluminum tag, but I can't remember know. The answer might be buried in the old BBS system.

Yes, that old White has very nice lines, that is why I adopted it in the first place.

Hi Dan,

Good point, I had forgotten about the Hia mahogany note.
Maybe all this means that they used whatever species they had/could get.

How about bottom shape, what are your observations/thoughts as to the shape of the various designs?

Don't know that I can say I've seen anything other than Indians, Hiawathas and 1950s Rangers. The Rangers of this era have no sheer whatsoever. The Indian and Hiawatha were built on the same mold, but the Indian tends to have a slightly more arched bottom. The half ribs and the way they are installed account for this difference in hull shape between the Indian and Hiawatha. The shape of the tumblehome stem changed somewhat over the years - like Old Towns, there tended to be a decrease in the amount of sheer, and hence, the height of the stems.

I have a Peshtigo built Indian and I had a Cortland built Indian. I had 'em both at the 2003 Assembly. As near as I could determine from the previous owners, they were both 1940-1943 vintage. The Cortland sheer was higher than the Peshtigo sheer, but lower than the Hiawatha. All the same profile but different in how far back the stem was cut to make the sheer. I had the external stem off of the Peshtigo canoe, and placed it on the Hiawatha. The profile was the same....just shorter. I suspect that the sheer height's varied by location, by builder, or by day to some degree. I also agree with the theory that, while cataloged specifically, that Thompson probably freely substituted with whatever building materials that they had on hand when needed.
Dan Miller said:
The Indian and Hiawatha were built on the same mold, but the Indian tends to have a slightly more arched bottom. The half ribs and the way they are installed account for this difference in hull shape between the Indian and Hiawatha.

Dan, Just curious how you know this? I have not had the opportunity to see many Thompsons out here in the northwest, so have very little experience with them. The old form I have produces a canoe with a depth of 13", which is spot on for a Hiawatha, but the catalogs all say the Indian has a depth of 12 1/2", and if the absence of half ribs makes the hull arch, then it would seem that the Indian would be deeper than the Hiawatha if they came form the same form.
Good question, Martin. Now that I think on it, I'm not sure where I developed that idea, probably was told it by someone else. Always kind of made sense to me as the hull shapes are so close and the lines appear otherwise the same. I haven't seen a Thompson since I left Wisconsin so can't make any measurements, but I don't get hung up on minor descrepancies in catalog dimensions. Often they are right, but just as often they are not. Given how complicated the Thompson forms appear to have been (see the patent description) it would have been easy to have them perform double-duty and produce two fairly different canoes off the same forms. In any case, I should rephrase my statement to "The Indian and Hiawatha may have been built on the same mold".

Most of the Hiawathas I have seen have narrow ribs, while the Indians had standard size ribs. On your form, is there any way the size of the ribs could be limited? Have you tried building on your form omitting the half ribs and stringers?

I also notice in looking over the form patent that the form, at least as described in the patent, was supposedly designed to allow construction of different length canoes simply be omitting or replacing center sections.

The form I have is solid, so it can only produce one size, I would love to see one that matches the patent description. Anyhow, the metal bands on the form I have are 1 3/4" wide spaced 1 3/4 inch apart, (3 1/2" on center, which again matches the catalog). The width of these canoes comes out to approx 33 1/2" and not the 34" specified in the catalog. I have built one canoe without the stringers and half ribs. It maintained a pretty flat bottom even without the half ribs. Some pictures are at my website at this link:
If I were to do another one without the half ribs, I would increase the width of the ribs, and also the lack of stringers caused some indentations on some of the ribs where the gap was for the empty stringer slot.

As for the Indian, since the metal bands on my form are 1 3/4" wide and are spaced 1 3/4" apart, putting a 2 1/8 inch rib like the Indian, would roughly give 3/16" of each side of the rib extending beyond the metal band and roughly a 1 1/4" space between the ribs, which might work for the Indian. The depth discrepancy is the one thing that does not work, as the form definitely will produce a canoe that is 13" deep, and that is not easily altered, but again the catalogs may be off.

The Hiawatha has zero rocker, does the Indian have any rocker ?
Interesting discussion guys,

For what little it's worth,

the canoe I've "ID'ed" as an Indian, is very arched and about 14" deep and no rocker. In hind site, as it had it's center ribs replaced before I got it, maybe the arch is from previous work that didn't get the shape correct.

The other 2, a 17' and 16', both with mahogany gunwales, are flat bottom, and maybe 12.5 or so deep and again no rocker, other then that they look like the Indian.

The last T I've got is either a early Ranger (or late Indian) with a traditional high round end (like OT's) and is flat bottom with half ribs, with no stringer. I once looked over the T catalogs and only found a few pics of this method on one of the fishing boats in the mid 40's, no where else.


As I recall, there were some indentations or creasing and screw head marks in the ribs near what would be the forward most position of the stringer on my Indian. If so, that could cause one to believe that the form was used on both models.
Yes, that was the location of the most pronounced indentations on my canoe, right at the ends of the stringer slots. Perhaps I'll try another one without half ribs and using 2 1/8" ribs and a dummy/filler for the stringer slot to prevent the creases next summer.....
I finally have figured out to get onto this forum, after several years of giving up in frustration!

Don't get to hung up on the lumber species utilzed in the construction of Thompson canoes nor the particular design/construction details. I do not have a great deal of expereince with their canoes, but am VERY familiar with their boats. I have had conversations with numerous former Thompson employees about htis topic. At the Thompson Boat Rally a couple of years ago we had four 12 ft. Take-Along model 240s side by side. They were all from 1950-52. Some had an inner keel, some did not. Some had spruce gunwales some had mahogany. Seat brackets were different on one of 'em, etc... I got Bill Luedtke (1950-71 at Thompson) and Oscar Anderson (1939-80 at Thompson). I asked why the same model had different details. Both agreed that the particular builder did things their own way and it may not have been "per the instructions". Some put the inner keel in the boats, some didn't. The species used for gunwale or whatever may have soley depended upon what was on the shelf at that paricular time.

Even tho they were mass producing these boats (8,000 in their peak year at Peshtigo alone), there was individuality built into each one. So they each may have had details unique to that particular boat.
Don't know if Pete Thompson would know this. Maybe. Young at heart 90 years of age Roy Thompson might be aware.
After looking a bit closer at some of the images in the Thompson catalog CD, it would seem that Thompson made somewhat liberal use of some of the canoe images. The overhead view of the 1937 strong and sturdy Ranger is the same image that was used for the Hiawatha, if the image is flipped both vertically and horizontally, the shadow patterns on the ribs in the image are the same, as is everything else. Same thing seems to be true for the profile image of the Hiawatha and Indian in most of the 1930's catalogs, if you look at the details of the images, they appear to be the same image. Same thing appears to be true for the 1941 and later Indians and Hiawathas, where the sheer line is dropped, the image for both models shows the same lower sheer line and the same image imperfections. In reality this probably has little bearing on whether the Indian and Hiawatha came off the same form, but it is kind of interesting.
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