Madison Style Ice Boat Model | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Madison Style Ice Boat Model

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Madison Style Ice Boat Model | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeMadison Style Ice Boat Model

Madison Style Ice Boat Model, c. 1917

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1983.292

EnlargeTrussed runner plank

Trussed runner plank, c. 1917

The backward angled mast (top image) and the trussed runner plank(bottom image) distinguish this model as a “Madison Style” ice boat. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1983.292

EnlargeRestoration detail

Restoration of ice boat, 1983

Detail of Museum Object 1983.292 prior to restoration. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum accession file 1983.292

EnlargeBernard's Boat House

Bernard's boat house, c. 1915

Bernard's Boat House on Lake Mendota, circa 1915. This boathouse, rebuilt after a 1914 fire, stands on the site of an earlier boathouse constructed by Charles Bernard behind the family residence at 624 E. Gorham St. Now located in James Madison Park, this structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. View the original source document: WHI 3495

EnlargeIce boats on Lake Mendota

Ice boats on Lake Mendota, 1896

A gathering of gaff-rigged, stern-steering ice boats and their captains on Lake Mendota, 1896. Source: WHI-2074 View the original source document: WHI 2074

EnlargeCarl Bernard and friends

Carl Bernard and friends, 1934

Carl Bernard and friends at the Stuart Cup races, Oshkosh, 1934. (L-R): Carl Bernard, Camp Van Dyke (Oshkosh), John Buckstaff (holding trophy - Oshkosh), and Andy Flom (Madison). Source: Image courtesy of the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club

Madison Style ice boat model built by the Bernard family, c. 1917, rebuilt 1977.
(Museum object #1983.292)

This miniature ice boat was originally built in Madison, Wisconsin about 1916-1917 by a member of the Bernard family. Museum records indicate the maker was twelve-year old Carl H. Bernard, but Bill Mattison, who knew both men, believes the model was actually built by Carl's father, William P. Bernard. We do know that Carl Bernard completely rebuilt the model in the mid 1970s, replacing the main and jib booms, runner chocks and runners, tiller post assembly, and the cables, lines, cleats and pulleys. He also added a new paint job and nylon sails. In its current state, the model reflects the high finish standards and rigging style of ice boats of the 1970s, rather than the rougher, unpainted look of the 1910s. Mattison, a Madison ice boat builder and champion pilot himself, rigged the model for display in 1983.

Carl Bernard was one of the best ice boat skippers to ever come out of Madison, which is saying a lot. Madison has been a center for ice boating in North America for over a century. Carl was the third generation of a Madison boat-building family. His grandfather, Charles Bernard, Sr. was born in Baden, Germany in 1824 and immigrated to the United States with his family eight years later. Charles arrived in Madison in 1853 and soon began making boats, eventually building the first Bernard boat house on the shore of Lake Mendota between Blair and Blount Streets.

As a boy, William helped in the family shop and took over the family business upon his father's death. During warm weather, William continued to build steamboats, rowboats, canoes, and sailboats for both local and out of state clients. He also ran a water livery service and excursions to "Bernard's Pleasure Park" on the north shore of Lake Mendota, east of Governor's Island. During the winter, the Bernards built, rented and raced ice boats.

Ice boating for sport began along New York's upper Hudson River around the Civil War and soon spread to other cold weather locations. An 1878 article in Harper's Weekly includes an engraving of ice boating in Madison. By 1900 an estimated 200 ice boats were active on the capital city's lakes, and the rivalry between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota skippers was intense.

In addition to building ice boats, William Bernard was an accomplished designer and skipper. In the late 19th century, he developed a distinct "Madison Style" of ice boat. Madison Style boats differed from the earlier Hudson River Style in two major respects: their masts were not vertical, but raked toward the rear, and instead of solid runner planks, Madison Style boats featured a lighter, trussed design. Though prone to spinning out, Madison Style boats were once considered the fastest sailboats on ice, capable of reaching speeds of up to 125 miles per hour. William built many famous ice boats, including the "Princess II" for Madison brewer Emil Fauerbach, which won the "Hearst International Cup" (the foremost prize for ice yachts carrying 450 square feet of sail) in 1914, with William serving as crew.

William's son Carl grew up in the culture of ice boating and began making models of them at a young age, some of which are pictured in Carl's scrapbooks of the time. Carl's mechanical drawing teacher at Central High School, Orien H. Dhein, recalled in 1935 that as a teenager in 1919, Carl "was continually designing and building boats and yachts."

These models - or miniatures, as Carl labeled them in his scrapbooks – probably served several functions. As innovative builders, the Bernards likely worked out new design ideas in miniature first. Dhein noted that "several of the best racing boats in the field were built in model form previous to their actual construction on a full scale pattern." As commercial builders, the Bernards may also have used the models as sales tools. Their models were sometimes displayed in the windows of Madison's Wolf, Kubly and Hirsig hardware store. The miniatures were probably also raced from time to time, just for fun.

One such fun event described by Dhein was a model ice boat regatta for Madison high school students in the winter of 1935. The date is not accidental. Ice boating got a boost in local popularity in the mid 1930s, largely due to Carl Bernard's racing success. During his remarkable 1934 season, Carl won three major regattas: the Hearst Cup, the Stuart Cup (for yachts carrying less than 850 square feet of sail), and the Northwest Ice Yacht Association Class A championship, as well as the Northwest Free For All. Carl went on to win 19 ice boating championships between 1934 and 1954, earning himself a place in the first class elected to the Madison Sports Hall of Fame when it was created in 1963.

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[Sources: Dhein, Orien. "Ice Yachting as a Hobby," transcript of a talk broadcast on radio station WIBA, March 17, 1935. William and Carl Bernard scrapbooks, 1895-1935 (Wisconsin Historical Society Archives call number M83-319); 1966 oral history interview with Carl Bernard (Archives Sound Holdings Tape 411A); The Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club website.]


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Posted on January 18, 2007