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Adding Power

View of Gidley gasoline launch, Whip'Poorwill, 1904. (CSTMC).

The dramatic increase in recreational boating that marked the end of the last century extended beyond paddling, rowing and sailing to vessels powered by engines. Although often larger and generally more expensive to own and operate, mechanically powered boats offered a new level of comfort and speed that had a natural and growing appeal.

Detail of Canadian Fairbanks Morse two-cylinder engine from Gidley gasoline launch, Whip'Poorwill, 1904. (CSTMC)

The modern high-speed sport runabout, so well-known to contemporary boaters, has its early origins in the 19th-century power launch. First driven by steam and later by internal combustion engines, these vessels featured long and relatively narrow hulls, which would draw maximum benefit, i.e. speed and efficiency, from the limited small power sources then available. Among the best known Canadian builders of powered launches was Henry Gidley of Penetanguishene, Ontario. Beginning in the 1880s with steam-propelled watercraft, H.E. Gidley and Co., as it became known, enjoyed considerable success with the introduction of gasoline engines in the 1890s. Soon, Gidley was one of the largest boat building operations in the country.

Detail of builder's plate, Gidley gasoline launch, Whip'Poorwill, 1904. (CSTMC)

The Museum's Gidley gasoline launch (790639) bears the name Whip'Poorwill and was built in 1904. The vessel is powered by a two-cylinder Canadian Fairbanks Morse gasoline engine and sports the hull form and many of the classic features of the early gasoline launch, including a side-mounted steering wheel and a jaunty canvas canopy.