For more than 60 years,
a publication centered on life in Mississippi.
Today is March 30, 2020


a family - a brand - a blessing

By Elissa Fulton


For those of you who are boaters and have any type of craft that requires a paddle, chances are high your paddle is a Caviness brand — and made in Mississippi.

The Calhoun City-based family business has been in operation for more than 70 years and is recognized as the world’s largest manufacturer of boat paddles and oars, in an industry that spans marine, fishing, canoeing, kayak and whitewater rafting. Caviness paddles can be found online and in most retail stores like Bass Pro, Cabela’s, Academy Sports and Canadian Tire.

Founded by James T. “Jimmy” Caviness in the 1940s as Caviness Woodworking Company, the company is now run by the fourth generation of the Caviness family. According to Michael Caviness, vice president and third-generation, the company had quite humble beginnings.

“My grandfather started the company in a shed next to their little red brick house,” said Michael. “He was a commercial fisherman, but he did a little bit of everything — a jack of all trades, and master of none. The little brick house is still right across the street, and the company has expanded around it.”

Jimmy was talented, but he was into many endeavors. With only a second grade education, he made furniture, he made brooms that he sold door-to-door for 5¢, and he made boat paddles.

“My grandmother was probably most influential to my grandfather starting the company,” Michael said. “She told him that he was going to do one thing, and do it well. He started doing nothing but building paddles and drove around the state selling them to retailers out of his pickup truck.”

He was able to patent a machine that made the paddle constructing process much smoother. Not having the financial luxury of getting it wrong even once, he sat on the floor, and using a pocket knife and cardboard, he manufactured a machine by studying how the gears and levers would work — all before paying to have the machine built. He may not have been school educated, but he was as determined and smart as any other successful entrepreneur.

“In the 1950s when the watershed lakes began, that fell right into us as a paddle manufacturer,” said Michael. “Everyone had access to the lakes over the years, and it became a regulation that you had to have some type of alternate propulsion in your boat as a federal law, which was certainly a plus for us because everyone had to buy a paddle for their boat.”

The 1960s brought new direction to the company under Jimmy’s son, Jim, who was instrumental in expanding into national and international markets. He also spearheaded an innovative line of synthetic products, which ultimately catapulted the company into new markets such as whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking.

In 1983, Jim’s oldest son, Don, became the acting president. As Don and Michael continue the family tradition, the fourth generation is now stepping up to the plate as well with brand new ideas and a zest for the industry, including Don’s son, Kris, who is taking on the marketing endeavors and product development.

Caviness is Natchez Trace Electric’s oldest industry member of its size. “You just don’t see many plants that have been in business for 70 years,” said Daryl Love, Natchez Trace Electric district manager. “When you’re the world’s largest paddle making company, there’s certainly a reason. The community is proud of them. They provide jobs and that’s important in a community our size.”

“This is a great town with a lot of great people that have supported us,” Michael added. “There’s truly been someone above looking out for us through the years. God has blessed us and kept the company going in the tough times and the good times too. I’m proud of our family, and I just love to tell the story.”

Visit for more information.

Site designed by Marketing Alliance, Inc.