The summer of 1944 saw an America transformed by war. Families had been torn apart by struggle abroad compounded by long hours on assembly lines back home. America’s industrial muscle was peaking at a level that brought pride to the nation and gave an advantage to the Allies in the field.
This era spawned many iconic American products. Spam, Jeep, and Ka-Bar Knives all owe their decades of dominance to an image that was born out of the greatest of all wars. Items renowned for the pinnacle of utility, combined with durability and ruggedness in the field made an easy post war transition to the American heartland. These products held a special spot in the American psyche that is impossible to build with mere advertising.
During this iconic summer, an executive for the Grumman corporation had the luxury of a family vacation. While spending a week fishing in the Adirondacks, he grew tired of portaging heavy wood and canvas boats over damns and around log jams. This gentleman, being an aerospace engineer, also had a vested interest in developing new products that could sustain his company after the war. It didn’t hurt that he knew a thing or two about revolutionizing an industry with new materials and updating manufacturing processes.
At the time Grumman was the elite naval based combat aircraft manufacturer. F-4 Wildcats, F-6 Hellcats, and TBF Avenger dive bombers rolled off the assembly lines as quickly as they could be built. Grumman had made a name for themselves in the toughest and most extreme environment for aviation. Short runways and pitching decks of U.S. aircraft carriers called for planes that were lighter and more robust than any previously made. At the time, Admiral John S. McCain was quoted as saying, “The name Grumman on a plane… the same meaning to the Navy that ‘sterling’ has on silver.” To the Navy, and the men who watched these birds come home time and time again, Grumman aircraft were the highest quality planes that money could buy.
This is the genesis of Grumman canoes. Aluminum, previously far too expensive for recreational use, had been rendered cheap by the economies of scale produced during WW2. The same engineering and manufacturing processes used on fighters, could be scaled down and used on a boat design as old as the paddle. Grumman’s first canoe, a 13 footer, was produced in 1945 at their Long Island factory alongside planes bound for the south Pacific.
It could be said that if you sat in a canoe between 1950-2000 there was a good chance it was made by Grumman. Just like their airplanes, Grumman quickly developed a reputation for rock solid reliability. These canoes are still the staple at summer camps and canoe rentals, and for good reason. No matter what a user puts their Grumman through, chances are it can be fixed with a heavy blunt object. Just like the iconic Jeep Americans went on to buy millions of copies for decades following the war. Yes, lighter, faster, and more efficient off-roaders and canoes came along, but something just felt right about buying an American product that had stood the test of time.
After a short hiatus, and some good old fashioned American mergers, aquisitions, and retooling, the Grumman name is back in canoes and they are virtually unchanged from their previous incarnation. Prospective buyers will be pleased with free shipping through Amazon.
Have any fond memories of Grumman canoes? Share them in the comments below.