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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.

Sturgeon Bay Boat Works
1918-1945

Johnson and Gmack found Sturgeon Bay Boat Works

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.
Lady J 1
1946-2000

Yacht Construction Resumes After The War

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.
Palmer johnson distributors
1977

Palmer Johnson Distributors is Founded

Palmer Johnson Distributors founded as a diversification of Palmer Johnson Yachts. Initially focused on distribution of Twin Disc products in Wisconsin and Illinois.
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1979-2007

Distribution and Service Capabilities Expand

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 Purchases NA D'Arcy

Palmer Johnson marches south & west adding locations through acquisition, culminating with the purchase of NA D’arcy Co. in California in 2002.
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2004

A New Name: Palmer Johnson Power Systems

Craig Parsons, 2nd generation family ownership, joins Palmer Johnson Distributors. The name is changed to Palmer Johnson Power Systems and separated from Palmer Johnson Yachts, which sold in 2000.
Building 3
2006

New Headquarters Opens in Sun Prairie

Opens new corporate headquarters: custom built 65,000 sf service facility in Sun Prairie, WI, with in-house master warehouse.
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2012

Key Partnership Established with JLG

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.
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2013

Employee Wellness Becomes a Top Strategic Priority

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.
1000 days of safety excellence
2014

The Brotherhood of The Wrench is Born

The Brotherhood of the Wrench is born! Drive for safety, lead-time improvement, and profitability in service.
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2015

Palmer Johnson Acquires Bowers Transmission

Acquisition of Bowers Transmission in Kent, WA. PJ becomes self-insured and rounds off our world-class benefits package.
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2017

Palmer Johnson Celebrates 40 Years

Palmer Johnson celebrates 40 years by raising $44,000 for Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.
PJPower Vail Mountain Top
2018

PJ ReNew is Established

Along with record sales, an all-employee trip to Vail, and a Sun Prairie HQ remodel to support our growing customer service team, PJ ReNew is born – our Tier I Equipment Reconditioning program.
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2019

Palmer Johnson Acquires Mill Log from Twin Disc

Palmer Johnson acquires Mill Log from Twin Disc in February, positioning Palmer Johnson as a dominant off-highway player in the Western US and Canada, and a powerhouse in both marine and oil & gas markets in North America.
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2019

Palmer Johnson Acquires Hamilton Engine

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 as our full-service design, engineering, and fabrication company.
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2021

Alterra Power Systems

PJE creates a new sister company to Palmer Johnson Power Systems, Alterra Power Systems specializing in distribution and service of diesel and natural gas power generation systems for commercial and mission-critical applications.