Pontoon Boats A History - Minnesota Invention and Innovation
Luxury was far from Ambrose Weeres’ mind when he invented the pontoon boat in Richmond, Minn., in 1951. He simply theorized that a wooden platform set atop two columns of steel barrels, welded together end to end, would make a sturdy pleasure craft more stable than a conventional fishing boat. He tested his first boat on Horseshoe Lake in Stearns County. His theory proved correct. He formed Weeres Industries the following year to test another hypothesis: That Minnesota, with its 10,000 lakes, would have some sales potential.
Sure enough, Weeres took 40 orders in 1952 for his Empress boat. He took another 100 shortly after displaying his pioneering craft at a show in Chicago. In the years to come, tens of thousands of Weeres pontoons would be made in Minnesota and sold throughout the nation.
Though Weeres invented the pontoon, Minnesota’s Bob Menne fast-tracked its evolution. A former professional snowmobile racer and Forester Boat executive, Menne launched Premier Pontoons in 1992 in Wyoming, Minn. His vision focused on a faster and more alluring pontoon.
“Dad offered colored carpets, high-quality furniture, creative seating configurations, larger outboard engines, high performance packages and boats that arrived at dealerships fully assembled,” said Lori Melbostad, Menne’s daughter and president of Premier Pontoons. “Those innovations and others led to strong sales immediately, and we’ve never looked back.”
So when did pontoon boats become cool?
Lori Melbostad, Menne’s daughter and president of Premier Pontoons surmises the shift in perception began in the 1980s. “Our family grew up on a Minnesota lake,” she said. “We always had boats. One day my dad watched as my brothers argued over who got to use the pontoon. That’s when dad knew he was onto something if he entered the pontoon business.”
Among Minnesota’s pontoon boat owners are Corey and Shana Krantz of East Gull Lake, who routinely ply Gull Lake in their Bennington pontoon. Parents of four children ages 15 and under, they say the pontoon is a perfect fit for them.
- Scott Reynolds