Palmer Johnson Yachts History
Palmer Johnson builds custom yachts in the yards of their Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, facility with sales offices in various worldwide regions. From its start as a builder of wooden fishing boats in 1918, Palmer Johnson has grown to be a leader in the United States for custom megayacht construction. The yachts feature an emphasis on a quiet, low vibration ride. The first aluminum megayacht in the United States to have both a United Kingdom MCA and Lloyd’s certification came from Palmer Johnson. A Palmer Johnson yacht also set a world speed record at one time in the large motoryacht class.
Palmer Johnson was founded in 1918 as Johnson and Gmack, building and repairing boats for the Great Lakes commercial fishing fleet. This continued until 1928, when Palmer Johnson, the founder’s son, built the first wooden yacht. As the reputation for high quality yachts grew, so did orders for custom wooden yachts.
When the United States entered WWII and country rallied behind the effort, Palmer Johnson, then called Sturgeon Bay Boat Works began producing 45’ air-sea rescue vessels 65’ T-class freighters. At wars’ end, a series of custom yacht manufacturing began. In 1956 the company was officially named Palmer Johnson Boats and was sold to a group of local Sturgeon Bay businessmen. In 1961, after being sold to Texas Instruments founder Pat Haggerty, a commitment was made to then begin producing yachts constructed of aluminum. Later, Palmer Johnson was later purchased by Andrew McKelvey from Monster.com.
Today, Palmer Johnson yachts is headed up by none-other than Mike Kelsey, Jr., who’s father Mike Kelsey Sr. is largely credited with developing Palmer Johnson into a megayacht legend. Mike Jr. had been an employee of the company for many years. Prior to his departure during some difficult financial years for the company, he vowed to return to the yacht building business due to his concern for the workers in Sturgeon Bay. For more than 150 years, these craftsmen launched ships into the Great Lakes, finishing over 250 boats with the skills and expertise that has made Palmer Johnson into an American icon. Mike Jr. seized the opportunity to purchase and expand Palmer Johnson's in the early 2000’s and turn back into one of America's premier yacht builders. Mike Jr. is fully credited with resurrecting the company and arranging the financial restructuring that has allowed Palmer Johnson to continue building on its successes.
Now, Palmer Johnson has several new high-style motor yachts under construction in Sturgeon Bay, ranging from 90 feet up to 123 feet, with the latter being the first ever fiberglass Palmer Johnson ever built. They have recently finished a 142’ tri-deck as well.