Andrew Higgins started out in the lumber business but gradually moved into boatbuilding, which became his sole operation after the lumber transport company he was running went bankrupt in 1930. Most sources say the boats his company was building were intended for use by trappers and oil-drillers; occasionally some sources imply or even say that Higgins intended to sell the boats to individuals intending to smuggle illegal liquor into the United States, and that the trappers and oil-drillers story was mainly a cover. Higgins' financial difficulties, and his association with the U.S. military, occurred around the time Prohibition was repealed, which would have ruined his market in the rum-running sector; the navy's interest in the boats was in any case providential, though Higgins proved unable to manage his company's good fortune.
Fortunately for Higgins, the United States Marine Corps, always interested in finding better ways to get men across a beach in an amphibious landing, and frustrated that the navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair could not meet its requirements, began to express interest in Higgins' boat. When tested in 1938 by the navy and marine corps, Higgins' Eureka boat surpassed the performance of a navy-designed boat, and was tested by the services during fleet landing exercises in February 1939. Satisfactory in most respects, the boat's major drawback appeared to be that equipment had to be unloaded, and men disembarked, over the sides - thus exposing them to enemy fire in combat situations. However it was put into production and service as the landing craft, personnel (large), abbreviated as LCP(L). The LCP(L) had two machine gun positions at the bow. The LCP(L), commonly called the "U-boat" or the "Higgins" boat, was supplied to the British (from October 1940), to whom it was initially known as the "R-boat" and used for commando raids.
The Japanese had been using ramp-bowed landing boats like Daihatsu class landing craft in the Second Sino-Japanese War since the summer of 1937 - boats that had come under intense scrutiny by navy and marine corps observers at Shanghai in particular, including from future general, Victor H. Krulak. When shown a picture of one of those craft in 1941, Higgins soon thereafter got in touch with his chief engineer and, after describing the Japanese design over the telephone, told the engineer to have a mock-up built for his inspection upon his return to New Orleans.
Within one month, tests of the ramp-bow Eureka boat in Lake Pontchartrain showed conclusively that successful operation of such a boat was feasible. This boat became the landing craft, personnel (ramped) or LCP(R). The machine gun positions were still at the front of the boat but closer to the side to give access between them to the ramp. The design was still not ideal as the ramp was a bottleneck for the troops as was the case with the British Landing Craft Assault of the year before.
The next step was to fit a full width ramp. Now troops could leave en masse and a small vehicle such as a Jeep could be carried, and this new version became the LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel), or simply, the "Higgins boat." The machine gun positions were moved to the rear of the boat.
At just over 36 ft (11 m) long and just under 11 ft (3.4 m) wide, the LCVP was not a large craft. Powered by a 225-horsepower diesel engine at 12 knots, it would sway in choppy seas, causing seasickness. Since its sides and rear were made of plywood, it offered limited protection from enemy fire. The Higgins boat could hold either a 36-man platoon, a jeep and a 12-man squad, or 8,000 lb (3.6 t) of cargo. Its shallow draft (3 feet aft and 2 feet, 2 inches forward) enabled it to run right up onto the shoreline, and a semi-tunnel built into its hull protected the propeller from sand and other debris. The steel ramp at the front could be lowered quickly. It was possible for the Higgins boat to swiftly disembark men and supplies, reverse itself off the beach, and head back out to the supply ship for another load within three to four minutes.