Paul Larson began a lifetime career at the age of eleven when he built his first boat. The founder of Larson Boat Works and Crestliner, Inc., Paul was born in 1894 to Swedish immigrants, Bengt and Mary Larson. When he built his first boat, he was living on a farm near Little Falls, Minnesota. A pond on the farm served as the testing site for his boat.
The Larson family moved into Little Falls to a house on Ninth Street Northeast where Paul continued to make duck and fishing boats for his friends. He also sold boats to lakeshore property owners around Lake Alexander. In 1922, Paul got an order for six boats from the Minnesota State Game and Fish Department, which led him to design the Game Warden Special.
The increased demand for his boats caused Paul to erect a new 24′x40′ boat works in 1925 on the east side of the Mississippi River. The land was formerly used for the Pine Tree Lumber Company sawmills. The Larson Boat Works weathered the economic down-turn of the Great Depression and the lack of materials for pleasure boats during World War II. In fact, Paul’s company added employees during the war because the company got a war contract to build training boats for the government. During the war, the boat works also produced wooden shell cases.
After the war, the company returned to building pleasure boats, making its first aluminum boat in 1946. Paul started Larson Water Craft as his aluminum boat manufacturing business. It was later renamed Crestliner, Inc.
In 1949, the Larson Boat Works burned. The fire destroyed everything, including boat molds and patterns, business records, and Paul’s boat racing trophies. The business was rebuilt in 1950 in the same location. Shortly thereafter, Paul and his team started experimenting with fiberglass, first by surfacing wooden boats with fiberglass cloth and resin, then by making fiberglass molds into which fiberglass was sprayed to form boats.
In 1959, Paul Larson expanded Larson Boat Works once again. The new factory was located on the west side of the river and has expanded many times since then. By 1976, Paul had finally retired from the boat business. Both Larson Boats and Crestliner, Inc. are now owned by Genmar Holdings, Inc.
Thanks to Paul’s creative boat designs, such as the Falls Flyer, “Punkin Seed” Duck Boat, Thunderhawk, and Pla-Boy, Little Falls has become known as “The Small Boat Capitol of the World.”
By Mary Warner
Copyright 2003, Morrison County Historical Society