Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Hacker, John

John Ludwig Hacker, born in Detroit, Michigan on May 24, 1877 is considered to be one of the greatest American motorboat designers of the 20th century, his designs called by some “the Steinway of boats.” After building his first boat, a rowboat, at age fourteen, Hacker went to night school to study marine design, becoming accredited at the age of 22. During the day he worked for his father as a bookkeeper.

Hacker’s first major task as a marine architect was to design a boat that could plane over the water rather than plow through it, increasing the boat’s speed. He created the revolutionary “V”-hull design, and changed the position of the propeller that would lift the stern of the boat out of the water. In 1903, Hacker designed Au Revoir, the fastest boat of its size in the world at the time.

Hacker’s creative talent and skill in naval design did not translate into business acumen. Over his career he started several companies, usually with partners, and did free-lance design for others. In 1907 Hacker and his father organized the Detroit Launch and Power Company with another boat builder, Louis Mayea. Hacker sold his interest to Mayea and went on to form other partnerships, at times plagued by poor health. Several of Hacker’s speed boats were named Kitty Hawk, perhaps because in 1911 he designed two floats for the Wright Brothers’ biplane, an innovation that allowed the plane to take off and land on water.

After associations with the Van Blerck Engine Company, whose shop was near to Detroit Launch and Power, then the Albany Boat Company in Watervliet, New York, Hacker moved back to Detroit in 1915 and built boats under his own name at 323 Crane Avenue. In 1921, he opened another facility in Mt. Clemens and two years later moved the entire company there.

Hacker sold the company in 1934 following some financial difficulty, though he continued to design for it. He died in March 1961 following a stroke the month before. Hacker is credited with designing a number of record-breaking hydroplane boats such as El Lagarto, Miss Sweetie, and Miss Pepsi, the latter being on permanent display at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. Among other successes, he had five Gold Cup winners and more than 20 water speed records. His papers and drawings are at the John L. Hacker Design Collection at the Mariner’s Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia.

Today the Hacker Boat Company continues in Silver Bay, New York, the oldest builder of wooden motorboats in the world. It makes Hacker Crafts, hydroplanes and personal boats internationally known for their detailed mahogany bodies and classy styling.



Photograph likely showing John Hacker looking over one of his boats, 1948

Poster displaying MISS PEPSI, designed by John Hacker, 1990s

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