To tell the story of Burger’s history one must go back to when Simon and Margaretta Brauburger left their home in Bad-Homberg-Ober-Erlinbach, Deutschland and emigrated to the United States with their five children, including their youngest son Henry, then 7 years old. After arriving in the New World, the family shortened their name to Burger and established their home in Jeffersonville, Sullivan County, New York where they resided for about ten years.
Since the climate and topography of the upper Midwest of the United States was so similar to their home in Europe, the Burger family relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where a large number of German, Dutch, Norwegian, French, Polish and Scandinavian immigrants had settled. It was in Milwaukee, at the age of 18, that Henry began honing his skills by apprenticing as a shipbuilder at the Wolf & Davidson Shipyard.
In 1863, while the United States was in the midst of the American Civil War, Henry at the age of 24 moved approximately 80 miles north of Milwaukee to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small community on the western shore of Lake Michigan. There he married Mary Esslinger, the daughter of a prominent German businessman and formed the H. Burger Shipyard to produce small, 20' to 30' Mackinaw fishing boats for local commercial fishermen. His expertise and penchant for building extremely high quality vessels quickly became known throughout the Great Lakes.
Between 1866 and 1869 Henry, and his small group of boat builders, built and launched several vessels including the scow MENOMONEE, the schooner FLEET WING and the schooner S.A. WOOD.
In 1870, during the heyday of wooden sailing ships, Henry B. and Mr. Greene-Rand consolidated their Manitowoc shipyards to form the Greene-Rand, Burger Shipyard—building among many others, the Schooners CITY OF MANITOWOC and J.I. CASE. This partnership continued until Mr. Rand’s death in 1885.
In 1886, Henry took his nephew, George B. Burger, into partnership forming the Burger and Burger Shipyard and in 1887, envisioning the decline of new wooden sailing ships; they purchased the only dry dock in Manitowoc to begin a ship repair business.
In 1888, the Burger yard launched the LIZZIE METZNER, an 80' three-masted schooner, built of blue oak. That same year, the 171' steamer PETOSKY, was launched defying all superstitions about Fridays being unlucky days for boats. The keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday and her maiden voyage was on a Friday. She was very successful, but met with ill fate in 1935 when she was destroyed by fire in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin while being converted into a barge.
In 1889, Burger launched CORA A, the last full-rigged schooner built on the Great Lakes. In 1890, Burger built and launched the 201' ferry INDIANA for the Goodrich Transportation Company, the largest and by far the most successful passenger steamship company on the Great Lakes.
The combination of new construction and ship repair was the formula that made Burger prosperous during the 1890’s when many other shipyards struggled. As there were no dry docks between Detroit, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin and none on Lake Superior the Burger shipyard had a steady stream of customers with eight to ten ships waiting to come in for repairs at any given time.
The company also maintained a large wrecking tug, the JOHN GREGORY that often brought in profitable repair jobs. The yard boasted a 337' graving dock which could handle vessels of 2000 tons. In addition, Burger had a set of boxes which would lift vessels of 350 tons and a large stock of spars and a spar derrick. Between 1870 and the turn of the century, the Burger brand name appeared on almost 100 new vessels including steamers, tugs, scows, schooners and barges. Without question, the Burger name was synonymous with quality and craftsmanship.
In 1902, Henry B. & George B. Burger, after almost 40 years in business, sold their shipyard to the Manitowoc Dry Dock Company. This company has evolved into the current Manitowoc Company, the world’s largest builder of cranes and commercial ice makers.
Henry B., then known as Henry Sr., retired, but the Burger shipbuilding tradition continued. However, ten years earlier, in 1892, nephew Henry B. Burger Jr. formed a company in his own name, Henry B. Burger Shipyard, just across the river from his uncle. It is on this site that the current Burger Boat Company has evolved.
Henry Jr. was very innovative and a true visionary. While continuing to build small sailing and fishing vessels, Henry Jr. quickly recognized the potential advantages of the newly developed gasoline engine and began installing engines produced by Kahlenberg Brothers of Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
Burger’s first motor launch was the 85' cruiser, VERNON JR., built for Vernon Siever of Chicago, Illinois in 1901. Within ten years, the company was building many 80', 90' and 100' wooden cruisers and had established a reputation for building the finest custom motor yachts anywhere.
When Henry died in 1914, his wife and four children, Henry C., George M., Walter and Caroline assumed ownership and management of the shipyard. In 1915, they incorporated as Burger Boat Company.
During World War I, Burger Boat Company’s tremendous reputation for wooden shipbuilding was such that the U.S. Navy ordered several wooden minesweepers, sub chasers, tugs and rescue craft. Burger also built thirteen 90' wooden tugs for the U.S. Army Emergency Corps.
The years following World War I saw many large luxurious wooden cruisers and sailing yachts built for the pleasure market. However, technological developments spurred additional innovation. With the advent of electric arc welding, Burger developed techniques for the construction of all welded steel hulls for pleasure craft. In 1938, Burger built the country’s first all welded steel auxiliary ketch, the 81' TAMARIS.
During the depression years, Burger Boat Company specialized in the construction of steel gill net fishing vessels as these proved to be far more practical than luxury yachts at the time.
Burger started another trend that gained immediate popularity when, in 1940, it launched the first flush deck cruiser, the 65' PILGRIM. To this day, PILGRIM has been fully restored and can be seen cruising the waters of the Great Lakes and the eastern seaboard.
With the advent of World War II the U.S. Army and Navy ordered 55 vessels over a five-year period from Burger Boat Company. Utility craft, steel tugs, crash boats, rescue boats, minesweepers and sub chasers slid down the ways in rapid succession. After the war, Burger devoted its efforts to producing pleasure yachts. Luxury cruisers and auxiliaries were built and a line of custom and semi-custom yachts were introduced in 1949.
In 1951, the Navy once again ordered seven craft, two 138' wooden minesweepers and five 170' wooden minesweepers.
Because of Burger’s reputation for being innovative and for building America’s finest yachts, the Reynolds family of Reynolds Metals Company approached Burger in 1952 to work with an experimental new material, aluminum.
With the development of MIG and TIG welding, the collaboration produced America’s first all welded aluminum vessel, the 36' cruiser VIRGINIA, in 1956. In 1957, the first all welded aluminum, shoal draft, centerboard yawl, the 58' DYNA, was built for Mr. Clayton Ewing. Designed by Sparkman & Stephens, DYNA was the first yacht built in the Great Lakes to win the 635-mile biennial Newport to Bermuda race finishing in just five days, one hour 40 minutes and 34 seconds, a new course record. DYNA went on to win many races and establishing numerous records due to weighing 8,600 pounds less than a comparable wooden hull and 10,000 pounds lighter than a comparable steel hull.
In 1959, the company was reorganized. The son of President Henry C. Burger, Henry E. Burger, became president and George M. Burger, who was Vice-President, stepped aside for his son-in law, Elias Gunnell II. Eli’s father was President of Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company and inventor of the rivet gun. Caroline continued as Secretary-Treasurer and oversaw accounting. The company became Burger Boat Company, Inc.
In the early 1960’s, the company’s primary focus was the design and construction of luxury aluminum motor yachts.
The heyday of flush decks, cruisers, houseboats, raised and semi-raised pilothouse motor yachts continued through the sixties, seventies into the eighties. During this period, Burger worked with such notable naval architects as Sparkman & Stephens, J.B. Hargrave, C. Raymond Hunt, and Donald O’Keeffe.
In 1976, Henry Burger bought out Elias Gunnell and became the sole shareholder of Burger Boat Company.
The largest aluminum yacht ever built in the U.S. was launched by Burger in 1977, the 125’ ARARA for the Illinois Tool Works. Burger’s tradition of building high quality aluminum yachts continued. However, in October 1986, due to declining health, Henry E. Burger sold the company to John McMillian, a then current customer building an 86' yacht.
Burger continued to prosper and for the period between 1985 and 1990, 47% of all the registered motor yachts over 80 feet built in the U.S. were built by Burger Boat Company.
In April 1989 McMillian sold Burger to United Shipbuilders of America, a newly created subsidiary of Tacoma Boat building Company. Fresh out of Chapter 11 reorganization itself, Tacoma’s strategy was to expand operations beyond its diminishing military shipbuilding by acquiring Burger and entering the pleasure boating market.
Unfortunately, the unexpected loss of several large naval contracts, along with the newly instituted luxury tax, caused a struggling Tacoma to abruptly suspend operations and on Friday, November 30, 1990, the closing of Burger was ordered.
A group of 167 skilled craftspeople and dedicated employees banded together as the Former Burger Workers for the purpose of staying in communication with each other in hopes their company, their pride and their boat building heritage would someday continue.
Fortunately, on Friday, February 5, 1993, 26 months after the closure, the Burger brand was reborn when businessmen David Ross and Jim Ruffolo purchased the assets of Burger Boat Company and reopened the shipyard, continuing the tradition started in 1863, that of building custom yachts 200' (60m).
The first yacht under the new management was the 91' Raised Pilothouse Motor Yacht WINDRUSH. This eagerly anticipated yacht was so highly acclaimed at the 1994 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, that it was directly responsible for Burger Boat Company receiving three additional yacht construction contracts.
Since its reopening, Burger has experienced tremendous growth and to date has built 34 new yachts that can be seen in ports around the world. In addition, the Burger shipyard has been completely transformed and now features a state-of-the-art manufacturing complex and a 50,000 square feet. (4645 square meters) joiner shop with a custom built dual station router and machining center, a highly efficient spray booth and drying center. In 2006 a new 500 metric ton capacity MARINE TRAVELIFT® and launching well were erected making the historic Burger shipyard into a world renowned showpiece, also a new 20,000 square feet (1858 square meters) corporate headquarters building was acquired.
In 2006 Burger launched the much acclaimed, the 144' (43.9m) MIRGAB V. MIRGAB V won the 2006 Yachts International World Yachts Trophy for Best Custom Yacht Between 40m and 50m award and the 2007 Showboats International Best Semi Displacement Motor Yacht over 40 Meters award. Displayed at the 2006 Monaco Yacht Show, MIRGAB V was recognized on the world stage as a showpiece of Burger craftsmanship and design.
With such tremendous growth and expansion, Burger University was initiated in 2006 to provide new and ongoing training in all trades and all departments. Several “mentoring” positions were added to complement the initiative of Burger University. In addition to this skill training, a heavy emphasis has been placed on safety training with frequent company-wide meetings to heighten the awareness and emphasize the importance of safety throughout the shipyard. In 2007 Burger again made a major commitment to training and employees retention by instituting LEAN Construction Practices throughout its operation.
In 2007, another first for Burger was achieved, the launching of the first set of identical twins, Hull 505 and 506, for a client who wanted to have a vessel on each side of the Atlantic. Again, these two vessels were met with much acclaim and have been nominated for several industry awards.
On August 16, 2007 Burger Boat Company announced the retirement of David Ross, Co-President. Then current Co-President James (Jim) M. Ruffolo undertook the full responsibility of President.
In 2008 Burger launched two yachts; INGOT a 153' (47m) Tri-Deck and TÒ-KALÒN a 101' (31m) Enclosed Bridge Motor Yacht. TÒ-KALÒN, a contemporary-styled custom Enclosed Bridge Motor Yacht, is built for speed for an experienced yachting family from the United States. The Burger Design Team joined forces with Cor D. Rover Design as the exterior stylist and Donald L. Blount & Associates to develop a vessel that is both elegant and technologically advanced. TÒ-KALÒN incorporates extensive use of strong, lightweight materials and carefully calculated design and engineering parameters. INGOT premiered at the 2008 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and was extremely popular at the 2009 Monaco Yacht Show.
In 2009 Burger launched SYCARA IV; a 151' (46m) Fantail Motor Yacht. Imagine going back to a time when people actually knew how to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of yachting. Owners of SYCARA IV were committed to exactly that—recapturing the splendor, grace and charm of an era gone by—when SYCARA IV was designed. This was their inspiration for SYCARA IV, a beautiful traditionally styled, early 1920’s era, Fantail Cruiser.
Launched in 2010 were the 140’ (42m) Motor Yacht SEA OWL and the 140’ (42m) LADY GAYLE MARIE. SEA OWL was a collaboration effort between the Burger Design Team, Vripack in the Netherlands and Andrew Winch Design from the UK while LADY GAYLE MARIE was the third new Burger build by the current owner.
Burger also took a look back in its history and determined that there was a market for high quality commercial vessels and projects. Since reinstituting commercial vessel construction in 2010, Burger has delivered two new vessels including the all welded aluminum R/V COREGONUS to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the all welded steel passenger vessel CHICAGO’S LEADING LADY.
For one to realize that Burger is a true custom builder is to look at the variety of yachts and commercial vessels that have been built since it's founding in 1863. Working with in-house designer and engineers, as well as highly acclaimed designers from around the world, Burger continues to raise the bar in quality and innovation.
Since 1863, Burger has been the foundation of the American Yachting experience and the oldest, most respected custom yacht builder in America, spanning three centuries.
LIZZIE METZNER – 80' Schooner, 1888
Wooden hull construction
1951 Korean War Minesweeper