In the summer of 1953, Roy and Grant Thompson launched Cruisers Inc., with the 6,000-square-foot former Holt Lumber planing mill in Oconto as the fledgling boatbuilder's new home.
In the first year of operation, Cruisers made 14- and 16-foot lapstrake boats, sold to the Thompson Bros. Boat Manufacturing Co. with the Thompson name badge on the hulls. The first shipment left Oconto on November 18, 1953. The first official cabin-cruiser model was a 19-foot, 3-inch lapstrake boat, which was introduced to the public at the 1954 New York Boat Show; she featured a sink, alcohol stove, water closet, cushioned bunks to sleep four, cabin lights and a collapsible table.
The first known Cruisers Inc. catalog debuted in 1956; at this time, the company was producing 60 boats per week, and the work force had grown from 20 to 101 in just three years. By 1961, 300 people worked at the Oconto facility during peak season. They were the world's foremost manufacturer of wooden lapstrake/clinker boats, producing 12 models from 14 to 20 feet in length.
In January 1959, brothers Roy and Grant Thompson gained complete control of Cruisers, Inc. In 1959 and 1960, they made 3,000 boats annually. Then the bottom fell out of the wooden-boat market.
As fiberglass boats hit the scene, customers abandoned wooden vessels en masse. Cruisers resisted the change, with the Thompsons believing firmly that a well-built wooden boat would outperform and outlive any fiberglass version of itself. Cruisers sold less than 800 boats in the 1965 season, and wooden boats were eliminated from the line by the end of 1966.
The Launch of Cruisers Yachts
Through the years, Cruisers experienced the ebb and flow of the marine industry, and it survived due to both the tenaciousness of its people and the superb quality of its product. This survival, however, was not guaranteed when boat sales crashed in the early 1990s. Enter lumber-industry magnate and venture capitalist K.C. Stock.
Stock was born and raised in the Oconto area. As an experienced businessman, he saw the potential for opportunity even in those bleak times and, as a native son, he knew the devastation that would afflict Oconto should the town's No. 1 employer close its doors.
So, in 1993, Stock's KCS International Inc. purchased the company it renamed Cruisers Yachts and, in the process, launched an upswing that would take the marine industry and pleasure-boating public by storm. Today, just nine years later, Cruisers Yachts produces 15 models from 28 to 54 feet in its expanded Oconto facility and in a new boatbuilding operation in Wilmington, North Carolina