Our History

Palmer Johnson's rich history spans more than 100 years, back to 1918 when Sturgeon Bay Boat Works began. In 1956, Sturgeon Bay Boat Works was renamed Palmer Johnson Yachts and in the 1960's Bill Parsons became a partner in Palmer Johnson Yachts. Over the next 4 decades, Palmer Johnson Yachts constructed world-class vessels ranging in size from 80' to 195'. In 1977, Palmer Johnson Distributors was spun off to diversify the business, distributing Twin Disc products. Bill Parsons retained ownership of Palmer Johnson Distributors and it has remained a family business for 42 years. In 2004 Bill's son, Craig Parsons, joined Palmer Johnson Distributors, now Palmer Johnson Power Systems. Below are highlights of the last 100+ years of history ranging from the early days of the boatyard to current state as a world-class Off-Highway Distribution and Service Company.

1918-1945

Hans Johnson and Herman Gmack found Sturgeon Bay Boat Works. During this era, the company built commercial fishing boats, rowing skiffs and small yachts. During WWII, built wooden aircraft rescue vessels and supply boats for the US Army. In 1928, Hans’ son, Palmer Johnson, took over the business; the company was renamed after him in 1956.

Sturgeon Bay Boat Works | PJ Power
1946-2000

Resumed construction of yachts; introduced aluminum motor and racing sail yachts. Owned by Mike Kelsey, Shuff Willman, and Bill Parsons, Palmer Johnson Yachts constructs vessels from 80' to 195' for international clientele. Regarded as the premier US yacht builder.

1979-2007

Added additional product lines for distribution and service: Wichita, Clutch, Funk, F.W. Murphy, Hamilton Jet, Cotta Transmission, Clark-Hurth, Durst, Rockford, ZF, Dana Spicer Off-Highway, Carraro, and Kessler.

2002

Palmer Johnson marches south & west adding locations through acquisition, culminating with the purchase of NA D’arcy in California in 2002.

2004

Craig Parsons, 2nd generation family ownership, joins PJ. Palmer Johnson Distributors changes name to Palmer Johnson Power Systems and is entirely separate from Palmer Johnson Yachts which sold in 2000.

1977

Palmer Johnson Distributors founded as a diversification of Palmer Johnson Yachts. Initially focused on distribution of Twin Disc products in Wisconsin and Illinois.

LEFT: Bill Parsons, Founder
CENTER: Gary Sorg, President (25 years)
RIGHT: Joe Schwarz, Service Manager (32 years)
2013

PJ gets serious about employee health, initiating wellness program and innovative benefit offerings. Safety program is revitalized. Begins 5-year implementation of leading technology strategy.

2006

Opens new corporate headquarters: custom built 65,000 sf service facility in Sun Prairie, WI, with in-house master warehouse.

2012

Begins servicing entire piece of equipment through partnership with JLG. Adds in service dealer arrangements with other OEMs including Brandt, Skyjack, Haulotte, Terex, and Pettibone over next several years.

2015

Acquisition of Bowers Transmission in Kent, WA. PJ becomes self-insured and rounds off our world-class benefits package.

2016

Winner of When Work Works Award for overall benefits package. Launched market-focused sales structure to capitalize on oil & gas, marine, and other key markets. Right-sized service department to focus on service excellence in 6 master rebuild facilities. Salesforce becomes leading software platform in technology roadmap.

2014

The Brotherhood of the Wrench is born! Drive for safety, lead-time improvement, and profitability in service.

2018

Record sales, all-employee trip to Vail, and Sun Prairie office remodel to house growing customer service team. PJ Service celebrates 3 years of Safety Excellence in midst of tremendous growth. PJ ReNew is born.

Vail, Colorado company retreat 2018
2017

Palmer Johnson celebrates 40 years by raising $44,000 for Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. Market teams gain substantial momentum, Oil & Gas charges to the top. PJ Odessa opens in the Permian Basin.