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 1960s 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 over 40 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 its current state as a world-class Off-Highway Distribution and Service Company.


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

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.


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.


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


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.


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)

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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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

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.


Palmer Johnson acquires Mill Log from Twin Disc in February expanding our presence in the Pacific Northwest and into Canada. “The acquisition of Mill Log positions Palmer Johnson as a dominant off-highway player in the western United States and Canada, and a powerhouse in both the marine and oil & gas markets in North America.” Craig Parsons


Palmer Johnson Enterprises acquires Hamilton Engine a leading DEUTZ and Isuzu Distributor based in Portland, Oregon. At the same time Trident Engineered Solutions spins off from Palmer Johnson Power Systems as full service design, engineering, and fabrication company focused on the off-highway drivetrain industry.