Just as the aluminum canoe replaced the wooden canoe at the end of the Second World War, in the 1970s plastics technology transformed the canoe industry and made the aluminum canoe obsolete. Uniroyal had devised a vulcanized sheet laminate at their R&D facility in Stoughton, Wisconsin, which they envisioned for use in the automotive industry. But it was never applied there, and eventually became Royalex, of which tens of thousands of canoes were fabricated by myriad American manufacturers until the mid-2000s.
The first Royalex canoe hulls, probably only a few dozen, were molded by Uniroyal at their plant in Warsaw, Indiana, then trimmed out there and sold to their employees. After this experimental period, the decision was then made to sell untrimmed hulls, known in the trade as “Warsaw Rockets,” to manufacturers to trim as they pleased. Eventually Uniroyal made and sold Royalex sheet to manufacturers, according to their needs and specifications, who did their own hull molding.
An early Royalex Canoe, circa 1970s, has been donated to the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum by Mike and Linda Cichanowski, founders of Wenonah Canoes in Winona, Wisconsin. It is one of the very earliest Royalex canoes, molded and assembled by Uniroyal and sold to a Stoughton employee. Still in good condition after nearly 50 years, it shows hull skin splits and blisters that plagued the first Royalex sheets. But once perfected, there is no doubt that Royalex changed canoeing, making this canoe an important part of canoeing history and evolution.