F R O M A N O T H E R A G E
THOSE with an eye for fine things
are often drawn to the sight of
wooden boats and launches with
classic charm. Among these are
The Electric Launch and Navigation
Company, later known as Electric Launch
Company (Elco), was founded in 1892. Its
boats debuted at the 1893 Chicago World’s
Fair, a fleet of 55 motor launches, 36 feet
long and powered by battery-driven electric
motors. During the exposition’s six-month
run, a million passengers cruised the
690-acre fairgrounds’ lagoons, canals and
its centerpiece pool, the Grand Basin.
Elco owners dominated the social regis-tries
of the period. They included Henry
Ford, Thomas Edison, John Jacob Astor,
and Russia’s Grand Duke Alexander and
Czar Nicholas II.
Within eight years, electric-powered
pleasure boats outnumbered the combined
number of boats powered by steam and
gasoline motors, first called explosive
engines. But by 1910 the range and power of
gasoline ruled and Elco followed suit.
The company built 5,000 marine
craft ranging in size from the 18-foot gig
or yacht tender to electric-propulsion cruis-ing
boats up to 127 feet in length. Elco’s
credits include lifeboats for the United
States Coast Guard, launches and tenders
for various navies, anti-submarine motor
launches in World War I, and 399 motor
torpedo (PT) boats for the United States Navy in World War II. Most notable among the
latter was PT-109, an 80-foot boat captained by Lt. John F. Kennedy, the future president.
Elco did not fare as well after the war. In time it became just a small branch of the much
larger Electric Boat conglomeration, later known as General Dynamics. Elco shuttered in
1949. The company reemerged
38 years later, and today produces hand-crafted replicas of its classic boats.
Whether a replica or an original, a glimpse of an Elco is to see a classic American yacht.
WBM july 2020
Above: The Republic statue
overlooks the Grand Basin and
the Administration Building
of the World’s Columbian
Exposition, the 1893 World’s
Fair held in Chicago. Elco
boats can be seen docked and
motoring about the pool.
by WBM Sta f f