Saturday, July 12, 2008

History of Electric Boats at The Adirondack Museum

Although they were popular in the Adirondacks in the 1890s and early 1900s, according to the G. W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, no one is really sure who founded the Electric Launch Company (“Elco”):

Electric motors that could be used for marine application had been invented by William Woodnut Griscom of Philadelphia in 1879, and in 1880 he started the Electric Dynamic Company. In 1892 Griscom’s electrical company went bankrupt, and Electric Dynamic Company was bought by Isaac Leopold Rice who founded Electric Storage Battery Company (“Exide”). Rice had become interested in Electric Launch Company; they had been buying his storage batteries. He also was interested in Holland Torpedo Boat Company. He purchased the latter and merged it, along with Elco, into the Electric Boat Company in 1899. In 1900, Elco, which had previously acted as middleman by farming out the hull contracts and installing Griscom’s motors and Rice’s batteries, built its own boat-building facility at Bayonne, NJ.

Join Charles Houghton, former president of the Electric Launch Company will present a program entitled “Batteries Included: The History, Present, and Future of Electric Boating” at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake that will be presented this Monday, July 14, 2008 in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.

The company provided 55 electric launches for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to ferry sightseers over the fair’s canals and lagoons. Elco shifted to gasoline engines by 1910 and had a long life building military and some of the first widely produced pleasure boats. During World War One, the company built 550 sub chasers for the British navy. In 1921 they introduced the popular and (reasonably) affordable 26-foot Cruisette, a gas engine cabin cruiser. During World War Two Elco developed the the PT Boat, an 80-foot torpedo boat with a Packard aircraft engine.

At the end of the war, the company merged with Electric Boat of Groton, CT to form the nucleus of General Dynamics. By 1949, General Dynamics’ CEO thought he could make more money by building military craft and Elco’s workers were fired, the shipyard in Bayonne, New Jersey and all its equipment was sold.

The company was re-incorporated in 1987 but didn’t shift into electric boats again until 1996 the year Monday’s speaker, Charles Houghton, became company president. Under his direction the company began building electric motor boats and electric drives for boats and sailboats.

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