The Wheeler Story
The rebirth of a revered yacht
A Past Anchored in History
Howard E. Wheeler Sr. founded The Wheeler Shipyard Corporation in 1910 in Brooklyn, New York to build high-quality, beautifully designed yachts up to 85 feet in length. In just a few short years, Wheeler had earned a nationwide reputation for the quality and craftsmanship of its boats.
This reputation caught the eye of author, journalist and avid fisherman, Ernest Hemingway. In 1934 he commissioned Wheeler to build what became the most famous fishing boat of all time, a 38-foot Playmate named “Pilar.” Aboard Pilar®, Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Islands in the Stream,” innovated new fishing techniques and patrolled the Atlantic waters for German U-Boats during World War II.
As the popularity of Wheeler’s line of yachts grew, the company purchased 21 acres at Whitestone Long Island to expand the business in 1941. The added capacity came at the perfect time, enabling Wheeler to produce a fleet of ship for the Navy and Coast Guard that helped defend America during World War II.
At the height of the company's production, more than 6,000 employees worked at the yard, including Mr. Wheeler and his five sons. The shipyard was even equipped with a stage and grandstand that could hold several thousand people for entertainment and boat launchings.
By the time Wheeler closed its doors in 1965, the Wheeler Shipyard Corporation had built more than 3,500 hulls, many of which were sea-skiffs, motor cruisers and custom yachts.
Cruising Forward to Wheeler’s Next Chapter
A fortuitous series of events led to the rebirth of the Wheeler Yacht Company. Filmmakers were working on a script about Ernest Hemingway’s life in Cuba and approached Howard Wheeler’s great grandson, Wes Wheeler, to consult on building a replica of Hemingway’s prized Pilar fishing boat. Wes provided input on the boat’s design and finishes and was so moved by the sight of the completed replica on the water he decided to design a new boat based on Pilar.
The Wheeler family is thrilled to bring the 38' Playmate back to life using 21st century technology and production techniques. This modern-day heirloom has unparalleled pedigree and will honor its predecessor’s style, essence and original dimensions, while upgrading the vessel with modern engineering, equipment and a more powerful engine. As a tribute to the original boat, the new design will take the same name and include the unique additions and customizations that Hemingway made to his Playmate, Pilar. Wheeler will launch this new line of commercial Pilar boats in 2020.
Wheeler Yacht Company ‘Firsts’
• First to build a sedan cruiser and give it that name.
• First to build a flying bridge with dual controls
• First to install a dinette that converted to beds.
• First to use a reduction gear engine.
• First boat with a diesel engine in a boat show.
• Queen of the NY Boat Show for 15 years in a row.
• First to sponsor an in-the-water boat show at City Island, NY, in 1937