This Transportation Entrepreneur Was More Than Just the Sum of His Parts

June 19, 1971

Garfield “Gar” Arthur Wood, a champion motorboat racer who also achieved fame for various transportation-oriented innovations, died at the age of 90 in Miami, Florida. Wood was born in Mapleton, Iowa, in 1880. He and his family subsequently moved to Minnesota and young Gar Wood developed a lifelong love for boats along Lake Osakis in the west-central region of the state.

Wood also proved to have a highly creative mind. In 1911, for example, he invented a hydraulic lift for unloading coal from rail trucks. Wood established the Detroit-based Wood Hoist Company, eventually changing its name to Garwood Industries and focusing on the construction of racing boats and truck bodies.

In 1916, Wood began racing motorboats in earnest. He set a new world speed record in 1920 when his boat Miss America reached 74.9 miles (120.5 kilometers) per hour on the Detroit River.  Over the next dozen years, Wood constructed nine additional Miss America motorboats and broke his own speed record five more times. He became the first person to travel over 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) per hour on water.

Wood’s other achievements on water included winning five consecutive powerboat Gold Cup races between 1917 and 1921 and earning the prestigious Harmsworth Trophy for motorboat competitions a total of nine times during the period from 1921 to 1933.

Wood also remained busy building truck bodies that were used by such manufacturers as International Harvester. One of Garwood Industries’ most significant products was a garbage truck that would revolutionize that vehicle worldwide. The truck, which was marketed as the Garwood Load Packer, had a compactor that doubled the vehicle’s capacity by periodically compressing the contents collected during trash pickups. Wood’s other transportation pursuits included routinely flying his own two-engine seaplane to far-flung locations in North America and – at the age of 87 – creating a battery-operated electric automobile.

For more information on Garfield “Gar” Arthur Wood, please check out http://www.bluebird-electric.net/miss_america.htm and http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/g/gar_wood/gar_wood.htm.

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