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Garfield ‘Gar’ Arthur Wood (December 4, 1880 – June 19, 1971) was an American inventor, entrepreneur, motorboat builder and racer who held the world water speed record on several occasions. He was the first man to travel over 100 miles per hour on water.
Gar Wood was born on 4 December 1880 in Mapleton, Iowa into a family of 13 children. His father was a ferryboat operator on Lake Osakis, Minnesota, and Gar worked on boats from an early age. In 1911 at 31, he invented a hydraulic lift for unloading coal from rail trucks. He established the Wood Hoist Co. in Detroit and soon became a successful businessman. Later he changed the company name to Garwood Industries, which built racing boats, but also capitalized on experience with coal unloaders to successfully produce and market GarWood truck bodies. He had a home in Algonac, Michigan, the same city as Christopher Columbus Smith, founder of Chris-Craft boats, and is buried there.
In 1916, Wood purchased a motorboat for racing called Miss Detroit. Wood set a new world record speed for a boat, (74.870 mph) in 1920 on the Detroit River, using a new boat called Miss America. In the following twelve years, Wood built nine more Miss Americas and broke the record five times, raising it to 124.860 mph (200.9 kmp) in 1932 on the St. Clair River.
In 1921, Wood raced one of his boats against the Havana Special train, 1250 miles up the Atlantic coast from Miami to New York City. Wood made the trip in 47 hours and 23 minutes and beat the train by 12 minutes. In 1925, he raced the Twentieth Century Limited train up the Hudson River between Albany and New York and won by 22 minutes.
As well as being a record breaker and showman, Wood won five straight powerboat Gold Cup races between 1917 and 1921. Wood also won the prestigious Harmsworth Trophy nine times (1920–21, 1926, 1928–30, 1932–33).
In 1931, he lost the Trophy in dramatic circumstances to his younger brother George. The race was held on the Detroit River and was billed as a match race between the Wood brothers and English (sic) racing driver and record-breaker Kaye Don, driving Miss England II. Before an estimated crowd of over a million spectators (one of the largest crowds for a sporting event ever), Don won the first heat of the race. In the second heat, Wood was leading Don, when Miss England II suddenly flipped over rounding one of the turns, fortunately without injury to Don and his co-driver. Gar Wood finished the race first, but both he and Don were disqualified because they had jumped the starter's gun by seven seconds. George Wood completed the final race to win the trophy.
In July, 1936, a plaque was presented to Detroit from the White House honoring Detroit as the City of Champions. The plaque has five "medallions" featuring athletes. One of these medallions is of a power boat racer, representing Wood.
Later business career
Wood retired from racing in 1933 to concentrate on his businesses. Garwood Industries continued to build wooden racing boats until 1947. Garwood Industries also built truck bodies and winches that were used extensively by truck manufacturers such as International Harvester, and were an OEM supplier to both the civilian and military market. Many trucks built during World War II came equipped with Garwood bodies and winches. One of the biggest contributions by Garwood Industries was the development of the now-ubiquitous garbage truck, which was originally built and sold under the name Garwood Load Packer.
Wood was known as an inventive genius who, at one point, held more US patents than any other living American. In addition to the profitable hydraulic hoist for dump trucks, at age 17 he invented a downdraft carburetor which enabled his inspection boat to outrace the other inspectors. At one point he had a job selling lightning rods to farmers and, to demonstrate their effectiveness he invented an induction coil device to mimic lightning. In the 1930s he designed a launch for the US Navy and demonstrated it for Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the Navy turned it down. The design was the forerunner of the PT boat.
Retirement and death
In the 1950s, he acquired Fisher Island (located in South Florida's Biscayne Bay) and was the last of a series of millionaires to occupy it as a one-family island retreat, eventually selling it to a development group in 1963. He also had a summer retreat in McGregor Bay, Ontario.
A 1967 Popular Mechanics article  showed even in retirement Gar Woods was still active inventing an Electric Vehicle (EV) controller which he used in the EV he built.
He died in Miami at the age of 90 in 1971, days before the 50th anniversary of his first Harmsworth win. Upon Wood's death, George Van of The Detroit News wrote: “To the public, he was Tom Swift, Jules Verne, Frank Merriwell with a little bit of Horatio Alger thrown in.”
He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990.
- Fix, John (July 1967). "Gar Wood: An Old Sea Dog Is Up to New Tricks". Popular Mechanics: 82–85. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
- The Windsor Daily Star - Google News Archive Search
- Traverse City Record Eagle, Monday, June 29, 1936, Page 26
- The Pittsburgh Press - Google News Archive Search
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gar Wood.|
- 1929 28' "Baby Gar" Antique Boat
- "The Speediest Craft Afloat", June 1929, Popular Science
- "The Gadget King of America" Popular Mechanics, October 1934, pp 536-539
- "Gar Wood's Mystery Boat" Popular Mechanics, September 1935 Miss America X
- Detroit News retrospective
- Gar Wood Boats
- Garfield (Gar) Wood
- 1967 July Popular Mechanics article on Gar Wood's Electric Vehicle (EV) pages=82–85