The Burger Boat Company was founded in 1863 by Henry Burger, the youngest son of Dutch immigrants Simon and Margaretta Brauburger. The family came to America in 1846, making their home in Jeffersonville, New York, and eventually shortened their name to Burger. In 1856, the Burger family relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was here that Henry, now 18, began apprenticing as a shipbuilder for the Wolf & Davidson Shipyard.
In 1863, at the age of 24 and during the American Civil War, Henry relocated to a small community in Manitowoc, Wisconsin on the western shores of Lake Michigan, married the daughter of a German businessman, and started the H. Burger Shipyard. Henry built small Mackinaw fishing boats for commercial fishermen and quickly become known throughout the region for his expertise and ability to build high-quality boats.
For a brief period of 15 years, starting in 1870, the H. Burger Shipyard and Manitowoc Shipyard combined to form the Green-Rand, Burger Shipyard. This partnership ended with the death of Mr. Rand in 1885. In 1886, George B. Burger joined his uncle Henry and they form the Burger and Burger Shipyard. Realizing the wooden shipbuilding industry was on the decline, they ventured into the ship repair business by purchasing the only drydock in Manitowoc. With their own tug for towing in repairs, and a 337-foot graving dock capable of handling vessels greater than 2000 tons, plus the fact that they were the only dry dock in the region near Lake Superior, there was always a steady stream of boats lined up for repair. It was the combination of repairs and new construction that kept them afloat when other shipyards were struggling.
Through the years, and into the turn of the century, Burger experienced many milestones including launching an 80 foot, 3-masted schooner made of blue oak, constructing the last fully-rigged schooner built on the Great Lakes, and in 1890 a 201-foot ferry for Goodrich Transportation Company, the largest and most successful passenger steamship company on the Great Lakes.
When Henry retired in 1902, he and George sold their shipyard to Manitowoc Dry Dock Company. Today, Manitowoc Company is the world’s largest builder of commercial ice makers and cranes. But the story doesn’t end there. In 1892, Henry’s nephew Henry B. Burger, Jr., formed his own company, Henry B. Burger Shipyard. It is this site where the current Burger Boat Company operates today. After Henry’s death in 1914, his wife and children took ownership of the shipyard and in 1915 the Burger Boat Company was incorporated.
Burger had a tremendous reputation for shipbuilding. In fact, they manufactured vessels for the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. In 1938 Burger manufactured the country’s first all-welded steel hull pleasure craft. Another popular trend created by Burger was the flush deck cruiser, some of which can still be seen on the Great Lakes today.
Because of Burger’s forward thinking and innovative technologies, the Reynolds Metal Company asked Burger to experiment with aluminum. In 1957, using MIG and TIG welding technology, Burger constructed the very first all-welded aluminum yacht, DYNA. At 85 feet and weighting only 8,600 pounds, DYNA was the first yacht built in the Great Lakes to win the 635-mile biennial Newport to Bermuda race in record time.
The company continued to prosper through 1990, and at that time, 47% of all registered motor yachts in the U.S. over 80 feet in length were built by Burger. However, Burger was sold to Tacoma Boat in 1989 and was forced to close its doors in 1990 when Tacoma Boat folded. Fortunately, in early 1993, two businessmen purchased and re-opened the shipyard to continue the Burger tradition of building quality custom yachts. In fact, their first yacht, WINDRUSH, was so highly acclaimed, that her appearance at the 1994 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show resulted in several new yacht construction contracts.
Since 1993, Burger has seen tremendous growth and expansion by operating with the same core values and craftsmanship as its founder. By raising the bar on innovation and quality, Burger continues to rise above the rest. The company is currently operating as Shipbuilders of Wisconsin, Inc., d.b.a. Burger Boat Company.
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