All American

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Paul Larson wanted to go hunting and fishing in the waters around his parents’ farm on the outskirts of Little Falls, Minnesota, but he needed a boat. The year was 1895, and buying a new one seemed out of the 11-year-old’s reach. So, he built one himself.

Little did he realize he’d be building thousands more while running one of the country’s most successful companies, producing sporty craft such as the runabouts shown here.

By the time he was in his late teens, Larson was building boats for hunters and fishermen. With his profits from a winter of trapping, he bought woodworking equipment and started building boats in Little Falls on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Larson built boats for the government during World War I, and by 1925, his Larson Boat Works was building pleasure craft out of wood. After World War II, it was building with aluminum.

A fire in 1949 destroyed the boatyard, and in rebuilding, the company began to experiment with fiberglass. The changeover was successful, and Larson added a new location.

By the mid-1960s, Larson and his 200-person workforce were turning out small craft such as the All American 166 shown here. The 16-footer came in outboard and inboard/outboard versions, with the latter packing a 120-hp MerCruiser gas engine and a price tag of $3,275. The modified-V hull rode on “a million tiny bubbles—gliding over the roughest water, slicing through wave and wake,” according to an advertisement. Standard features included an 18-gallon gas tank, “sunbather” seats, a color-matched convertible top and mechanical steering.

Larson retired and sold the business in 1976. He left a legacy of small craft thanks to his creative boat designs, such as the Falls Flyer, Pumpkin Seed duck boat, Thunderhawk and Pla-Boy models. Because of his contributions, Little Falls became known as “The Small Boat Capital of the World.” 

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.

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