History of Glastron
Fiberglass boats had their beginnings just after World War II and owe their technology to processes that came about during the war effort and continued afterward. Such was the case with Mr. Bob Hammond, whose original ideas became Glastron boats.
After the war Mr. Hammond was working with Douglass aircraft's tooling department using the latest plastics methods. After a few years he broke away from Douglass looking for a way to "utilize" his skills with plastics and the relatively new fiberglass materials. He joined on with Lone Star boats in Grand Prairie Texas around 1953. Mainly a manufacturer of aluminum boats, Lone Star would benefit greatly from Mr. Hammond's contributions to its new fiberglass models. The famous Meteor was one of Bob's designs. Bob, however, dreamed of something more. Like so many of the great entrepreneurs that from small beginnings became great companies, Mr. Hammond wanted to step out with his own design of boat. Lone Star's fiberglass models were mainly fishing boats whereas Bob had ideas of a more advanced design with newer and better performance, styling and features. After a few years at Lone Star, he joined forces with Bill Gaston, an Austin Texas boat dealer already very involved with the boat industry of the time. Also joining them was Mr. Robert Shoop, owner and manager of Capitol Casket Co., and Mr. Guy W. Woodward, owner of and adhesives company that marketed products used in fiberglass manufacturing. With the combination of these men's business savvy, knowledge of materials, design, and marketing, and the rising market for durable, maintenance free fiberglass boats, a nucleus was formed for a company destined to great success.
1956 At night after work Mr. Hammond designed and tooled a prototype in a rented garage in Arlington Texas. (Arlington and Grand Prairie are the two main cities between Dallas and Fort Worth). One of the first employees was a young stock clerk named Mel Whitley. The reward for his labor was one of the first boats to be made. Mel told Bob that he wanted to come join the company and so another key member of the founding team joined on. The boat was a fabulous 15 ft. model and was put through strenuous testing in Gulf of Mexico waters off the Texas coast. After passing with flying colors and securing $25,000 from investors, the corporation was officially created on October 14, 1956. Right away they were ready to start production. Bob and his wife Bettye liked the Austin area where Gaston's boat business was already located. With big Lake Travis and the smooth Town Lake right nearby, it was an excellent choice for a place to build the company. Initially, the company name was set up as Standard Glass Products due to the combination with Shoop's casket company. One evening Bob and Bettye were out driving and Bettye came up with the idea of combining "Glas", representing the new material, and "Tron", which sounded high tech, and the Glastron name was born. By the end of 1956, sales of $12,262 were recorded, representing 24 boats produced for 1956. They essentially broke even, a remarkable feat considering start up costs and only two months of production. An interesting note is that for the 1982 Glastron catalog the company celebrated a 25th anniversary noting "1957 - 1982" By 1996 apparently the history became clearer and the 1996 catalog celebrated the 40th anniversary with dates on the front of the catalog: "1956 - 1996".
There were two models offered for the 1957 model year, both based on the 15 footer designed and developed by Hammond in Arlington Texas. The Fire-flite sedan was a deluxe model with fine upholstery, custom polished aluminum side spears and other pieces, a panoramic windshield, full lighting, flotation, bow bumpers, stern handles and more. The second model, the Surf-flite, was a utility version for fishing with standard front bench seat and lots of storage compartments for gear. Optional built-in bait wells could also be added. One of the first of MANY innovations pioneered by Glastron was the offering of several deck colors to choose from, not just one like all the other companies. These '57 models could be bought with deck colors of Matador red, Fire orange, Charcoal gray or Aqua blue.
For the 1958 model year they added the 14'6" Skiflite for the entry level boater and the 17' Seaflite with an industry first hardtop. A 14' Fisherman was also added using the Skiflite hull. This was the year that the chrome mylar side panel was added to the hull sides. In the summer an event occurred that seemed to make everyone take notice of Glastron. Three employees of an Austin newspaper undertook a 2,600 mile 10 day trip from Houston to New York in the new 17' Seaflite using Johnson Outboards. (Probably using twin motors) National attention was drawn to Glastron's rugged products. 1957 ended with production of 900 boats and $471,000 in sales with after-tax earnings of $40,529. Glastron was on its way.
For the 1959 model year sales zoomed to a 400% growth rate. Production and storage space had to be constantly added. A satellite production site was acquired in Madison Indiana but struggled with some high overhead costs. Eventually and 8 acre site was purchased in northwest Austin to become a permanent facility to replace the several smaller scattered sites that were mostly leased.
By 1960 the new 32,000 square foot plant, one of the most modern in the industry, was completed. An overhead monorail system greatly improved many of the old processes. Many other innovative pieces were incorporated by long time maintenance head, Hubert Campbell. A new two tone gel coating process was pioneered by Glastron due to a special hull parting wax they developed.
1961 saw a recession in the outboard boat industry. Nationwide, outboard boat sales dropped from 329,000 units in 1960 to 258,000 in 1961. Also, the plant in Madison Indiana was closed. On a good note Glastron introduced its first stern drive models.
1962 brought many areas of growth. A full time chemist was brought on board.
A central gel coat distribution system was installed. Sales were back up and Bob Hammond met Harry Schoell, one of the first designers of the V-hull. Shortly after Glastron introduced its revolutionary Aqua Lift v-hull design. See my Racing section for info. on the great success of these V-hulls on the racing circuit.
By the end of 1963 Aqua Lift models accounted for over 50%of sales. Racing victories were boosting sales and Glastron had sales representation in all 50 states. A tremendous distribution system of independent distributors set Glastron ahead of all the rest.
In 1964 half interest of Glastron was sold to Hugh Halff.
1965 saw even further growth as the plant was greatly expanded to 125,000 square feet and 14 acres. The first of many distributor sales incentive trips flew to Mexico City and Acapulco. These trips continued over the years and proved highly successful in keeping dealers and distributors highly motivated. In December a new 45,000 square ft. warehouse was added which featured vertical stacking of boats up to 23 ft. in length. Bob Hammond devised an excellent system of managing inventories at the factory as well the dealers that kept sales flowing smoothly at all times. A well devised system of distributors kept deliveries always moving at amazingly quick and efficient rate.
1966 saw more worldwide expansion as a special deal broke barriers and brought a special distribution deal and Glastron sales to Spain. Special inroads were also made in the U.K and sales blossomed there as well. A new high-tech computer system was added to greatly enhance production controls, billing, purchasing etc. Sailboats were added to the lineup and were moderately successful over several years. Development of the new Aqua Lift II hull was started and Glastron's excellent version of the cathedral hull would soon be ready. Testing had begun and the results were incredible when the test boat was compared to competitor boats. The boat would become the V-176 Swinger and become hugely popular when introduced in 1967.
1967 Halff orchestrated a merge of Glastron with the Conroy company which brought fresh capital to the company and allowed listing on the AMEX. The Aqua Lift II hull was introduced to huge success. A Glastron boat was converted and became the Batboat in the new Batman movie. Glastron acquires Nauta-Line and adds houseboats to the product line.
1968 Glastron creates a motor home and enters the RV market. Bill and Kathy Diamond complete the longest ever outboard cruise from Juneau Alaska to New York City with Evinrude motors. Bob Hammond meets Art Carlson of Carlson High Performance boats and a deal is struck as the two team up and form Glastron-Carlson sport/luxury boats to be headed by Art Carlson. Bob Hammond teams with Angelo Molinari and makes Molinari racing boats in the U.S. at the Carlson plant. Glastron racing becomes more successful than ever. Glastron acquires Sno-Jet and enters the snowmobile market.
1969 Glastron reaches new deals with stern drive manufacturers and begins to offer money saving packages on their stern drive models. The annual dealer and distributor outing travels to Puerto Rico.
1970 The 100,000th Glastron is built. The first Glastrons are built in an eastern bloc country, Yugoslavia.
A Glastron appears in the Royal family Christmas card. Glastron-Carlson Molinaris stack up huge wins on the racing circuit.
1971 A special agreement is reached with Teleflex and instrument and steering packages are mass produced and packaged with Glastron boats. Reggie Fountain concludes a fabulous racing career with Glastron as Glastron ends its racing program. Fountain purchases all of the Molinaris, continues racing and goes on to found the legendary Fountain Boat Co.
1972 Model line is increased to 25 models. Hammond now teamed with the great Mel Whitley in designing the boat models. They would "disappear" together and come back with the marvelous designs. A 38% increase in sales saw a whopping $27,435,000 in sales. In September ground was broken for a 51,840 square foot cruiser plant. It is rumored that this is the only Glastron building still standing in Texas. Total facilities were up to 581,000 square feet, the largest boat plant under one roof in the world.
1973 In the new James Bond 007 "Live and Let Die" film Glastron boats were used extensively in a chase scene that is still to this day one of the most outstanding chase scenes in any movie. The '73 GT-150 set a world record for the longest jump. Needless to say, the related publicity was a huge boon to business. Combined models including Glastron-Carlsons was now 33.
1974 The energy crisis and Arab oil embargo put a temporary dent in production and sales, but not for long. The biggest loss of all was the retiring of Bob Hammond, one of the greatest minds in all of boating history. He founded the company and led it from a home garage operation to the largest boat company in the world in the 17 years he was there. An amazing feat. Bob wasn't through, however. He went on to found Hammond Boats, a wonderful boat line that began in 1976 and ran all the way to the mid '80s.
Bob was also inducted into the NMMA Hall of Fame in 2004.