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Bringing history to life and learning about our community

In 1891, Harbor Springs resident and inventor Ephraim Shay built a steel boat. The
boat was 50 feet long and Shay named it the Aha! Boats were mostly built of wood in
the 1890s, so an all steel boat was
something new and many people
did not believe it would float.


Now it is your turn! Use tin foil to
design and test your own boat.

You will need: aluminum foil, pennies, a plastic container to hold water (or a bath tub), a ruler, paper
and a pencil.

1. Fill the container with water. It should be large enough to fit your boat.
2. Create a boat with a square sheet of the aluminum foil (Hint: try folding up the edges).
3. How many pennies will the boat float? Use the paper and pencil to make notes of your guesses.
4. Place your boat in the water and add pennies one at a time. Do this until the boat sinks. How
many pennies sunk your boat? Make a note of how many pennies it took.
5. Redesign the boat. Try adding more layers or making different shapes. How many pennies will
sink it now? Record your guesses – or hypotheses – and compare them to how long it actually
takes the boat to sink. Use the ruler to measure the thickness of the boat. Does that make a
difference? Does boat length make a difference?
6. Try additional waterproof materials to explore ways to create different shaped boats that float
using straws, plastic cups or popsicle sticks.

Share your designs with us! Post them to the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society’s
Facebook page or email us at