June 19, 1971: Death of Duluth power boat legend Gar Wood

On this day in 1971, renowned powerboat racer and native Duluthian Gar Wood died in Florida. He was born Garfield Arthur Wood on December 4, 1880, in Mapleton, Iowa, and moved to Duluth with his parents in 1890 after his father Walter was hired by the Lakeside Land Company, which developed what is today Duluth’s Lakeside and Lester Park neighborhoods. In 1893 Walter was hired to take care of three powerboats the federal government would use while reconstructing the piers of Duluth’s ship canal in the 1890s; tagging along with his father, gar Wood fell in love with power boats. Gar left Duluth in 1908 and four years later struck upon an idea for a hydraulic lift for unloading trucks. Wood opened the Wood Hydraulic Hoist Company in St. Paul, and then moved the company to Detroit. By 1921, Wood had three factories in Detroit, one in Canada, and an assembly plant in Paris; he would eventually have a fortune estimated at $50 million. He purchased his first powerboat in 1916, then bought the company that made it. From 1917 to 1921 Wood won five straight American Power Boat Association Gold Cups with the boats he built with Chris Smith. Over the years, Wood set numerous speed records on the water. Racing his boat Miss America IX in 1931, he was the first to reach 100 miles per hour, setting a top speed of 102.256 miles per hour. He was the first to put an airplane engine in a boat, which he did in 1917 in Miss Detroit III. There are countless tales of his boat racing exploits and engineering endeavors, and you can read most of them here, in a biography by David Ouse.

Gar Wood. (Image: woodyboater.com)

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