Steamboats and sailing ships is a gallery of vessels that once sailed the Great Lakes from the pioneering and settlement days of the 1800’s, into the early 1900’s. Water transportation on the Lakes brought a variety of boats for a variety of purposes. The transport of people to explore, immigrate, and settle was the first “cargo” on the Great Lakes. The movement of people for this purpose, soon gave way to passenger travel for business, and, as it is now, for pleasure.

Early transportation of bulk cargos started with fishing, fur trading, and then came lumbering on the Great Lakes, from one end of them to the other. The shipping of grains, and various manufactured goods, showed the growing prosperity of both America and Canada. Minerals, like copper, limestone, coal, and iron ore added there influence to the type of ships needed on the Great Lakes.

The year 1900 would find literally hundreds of vessel types in use on the Great Lakes at one time, from wood hulled sailing ships, to bigger and bigger steel steamers. It was an era where sail met steam, and where the pioneering settler met the pioneers of industry!

This gallery of sample pictures is an attempt to show this era of transition in steamboats and sailing ships on our “Inland Seas!”

Thank you, Dick Wicklund

This wood hulled schooner was built at Algonac, Michigan in 1894 by J. H. Ihnken. It's dimensions were: 180 feet long by 34' 3" wide, with a depth of 11' 8," at 618 gross tons. She was a typical sailing vessel that was often used as a barge, towed by a steamer or a tug in harbors, rivers, or on the open waters of the Great Lakes. In 1916 she was sold for service on the Atlantic coast. She was abandoned far from the Lakes in 1936.
(Photo - McGreevy collection)

This wood schooner barge was built in 1888 at St. Clair, Michigan, by the Simon Langell shipyard. Her overall dimensions were 178' 6" long, by 34' 5" wide, and a depth of 12' 2" She was 521 gross tons. In this Pesha photo she is seen in the St. Clair River piled high with lumber, about 1900. Notice the tow lines at the stern and the bow. A steamer was towing her, and it was likely that another schooner barge was attached to her stern tow line. She was sold for service on the Atlantic in 1916, and did not return to the Lakes.
(Photo - McGreevy collection)

Jenks Shipyard at Port Huron, Michigan, built this steam powered wood hulled propeller in 1893. The dimensions for this 536 gross ton vessel was 159 feet long, 30' 6" wide, with a depth of 10' 7." She was a typical vessel employed in the lumber trades on the Great Lakes, and often towed schooner barges which were also piled high with lumber. She was sold in 1898 for east coast service, then to Canadian owners in 1901, which brought her back to the Lakes for service. This classic lumber hooker was destroyed by fire on May 10, 1917, at Fair Haven, New York, on Little Sodus Bay, west of Oswego on Lake Ontario.
(Photo - McGreevy collection)

This lumber hooker, as they are called, was built in 1885 by F. W. Wheeler Shipyard in Bay City, Michigan. At 533 gross tons, her dimensions were 160 feet long, by 30' 3" wide, with a depth of 12 feet. This wood hulled lumber carrying boat was owned by several owners, and started with the Bay City & Cleveland Transportation Company. She was last owned by the Herman H. Hettler Lumber Company of Chicago, for service on Lake Michigan. She was driven ashore in a storm north of Manistee, Michigan, Lake Michigan, on November 8, 1933, and destroyed in the heavy seas. The crew safely got away from this stricken vessel, that had sailed faithfully for 48 years on the Great Lakes.
(Photo - Dick Wicklund collection)


This was a truly classic passenger and freight steamer that saw service all over the Great Lakes. Nyack was built in Buffalo, New York, in 1878 for a division of the Erie Railroad. She was 1254 gross tons, with a length of 231 feet, a width of 33 feet, and a depth of 14' 7." This wood hulled vessel had arches along each side, with an engine in the stern, which meant she was a "propeller" steamer. Nyack operated between Buffalo and Duluth in the 1890's, then on Lake Michigan for E. G. Crosby after 1900. On December 30, 1915, she burned at Muskegon, Michigan. Her hull became a barge after this, and then a breakwater by 1933. The Nyack was a dependable classic steamer that helped make the Great Lakes a popular place to travel.
(Photo - McGreevy collection)


This steel hulled side-wheel overnight passenger vessel was built in 1893 by the Detroit Dry Dock Company at Wyandotte, Michigan. Her owner, Detroit & Cleveland Steam Navigation Company, ran her and her twin, the City of Alpena, in their Lake Huron division from Toledo, Ohio, to St. Ignace, Michigan, with stops at ports in between. Her gross tonnage was 1,749 tons. Her dimensions were: 266 feet long, by 69' 2" wide, and a depth of 13' 4." She was laid up in 1919, and sold in 1921 for Lake Michigan service to the Graham & Morton line of Chicago. Her name was changed to the City of Holland. In 1924 her owner was bought out by the Goodrich Transit Company. However, the depression of 1929 put this company and this ship out of business in the 1930's. This classic side-wheel vessel was laid up until scrapped in 1940.
(Photo - McGreevy collection)

This Frank E. Kirby designed day excursion vessel was built in 1911 by the Detroit Shipbuilding Company at Wyandotte, Michigan. Her overall length was 240 feet. Excursion travel had become a major business on the Great Lakes, especially on Lake Erie, to Detroit, and north up the St. Clair River to Port Huron, when this vessel was launched. The Put-In-Bay was named for that famous place where the battle of Lake Erie was fought in the War of 1812. The Ashley & Dustin Steamer Line operated this beautiful ship for most of its years. Peter J. Vander Linden took this picture of the Put-In-Bay docked at Port Huron, Michigan, on July 9, 1950, on one of its excursions. With just over 42 years in service this fine ship was sold. Her wood upper works were burned off, and the steel hull scrapped in 1954. She was built during the hay day of pleasure travel, but the automobile and better highways, not only replaced her, but many other once grand excursion vessels by the 1950's.
(Photo - Dick Wicklund collection)

The White Star Line of Detroit had this passenger and freight vessel built for the Detroit to Port Huron, Michigan, run north up the St. Clair River. She was designed as a daytime excursion boat. She was built at Toledo, Ohio, in 1908 at 184' 6" long, 38'4" wide, with a depth of 14 feet. This view shows her flags flying, proudly proclaiming her destinations: Detroit, Tashmoo Park, Port Huron, and the St. Clair Flats. With growing towns and cities, these types of vessels now provided pleasurable excursions, whereas only a few years earlier the passenger boat brought people to start new lives in these same places. The Wauketa served on the Great Lakes for twenty-two years, then in 1930, she was sold for use off the Lakes. In 1953 she was sold for scrap after 45 years of service.
(Photo - McGreevy collection)

If ever a vessel on the Great Lakes that could have been preserved, it was the American gunboat, USS Michigan. This iron hulled side-wheel steamboat was launched at Erie, Pennsylvania, in December, 1843. The USS Michigan was the first iron hulled vessel in the U. S. Navy. It's purpose was to patrol the U. S. and Canadian border. She was rigged with three masts if the engine failed. She was originally powered by wood, instead of coal, in the early years. This powerful, fast 165 foot gunboat was used all over the Great Lakes in it's long career. It was only 21 years in service at the end of the Civil War, having participated in that great conflict when it reached the shores of the Great Lakes. In 1905 it was renamed USS Wolverine, then decommissioned in 1912. However, it continued to be used for training until 1923, when engine problems put an end to her 80 years of sailing. It was hoped to have it preserved, but political disputes and inaction caused it to deteriorate beyond restoration. This faithful veteran was scrapped in 1950 in it's 107th year. A part of it's bow is on display at Erie, Pennsylvania, as a remembrance.
(Photo - McGreevy collection)

Built as the Peerless, the name Muskegon was applied to this wood hulled passenger and freight steamer in 1907. Peerless was built at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1872 at 220 feet long, and 40 feet wide. Until 1907, the Peerless had retained her classic style as the Muskegon, which helps us see the kind of passenger boat that sailed the Great Lakes, only seven years after the Civil War. She was not a side-wheel vessel, but a propeller, which meant her engine was in the stern, and not in the center of the hull. Propeller steamers could be cut down for other uses because of this, and this was done in 1908. She became a bulk-carrier, looking more like a lumber hooker, or an ore boat. In 1910, she became a sand dredge, but for only a short time when she burned to a total loss in October at Michigan City, Indiana. Fortunately, as the Peerless, or as the Muskegon, pictures can still be found of her striking a classic pose.
(Photo - Dowling collection)

The wood hulled schooner barge Minnie E. Orton was built in 1884 by the David Lester shipyard at Marine City, Michigan, on the St. Clair River. This 431 gross ton schooner was 178 feet long, and 31 feet wide. She was owned by the Toledo & Saginaw Transportation Company, which also had other schooners and steamers in its fleet. The Minnie E. Orton was named for a much beloved young lady by Amos Orton, who was the founder of the town of Ortonville, Michigan. The name of this schooner would never change. It was built for the lumber trade, and in its early years hauled this commodity from Bay City, Michigan, to Buffalo and Tonawanda, New York. After over 40 years of service it was abandoned in 1926, and partly scrapped. Its resting place was along the St. Clair River, near the mouth of the Black River at Port Huron, Michigan. She was filled in and covered over as part of the shoreline, possibly by 1940. Unexpectedly in 2004 most of her remains were uncovered in the building of a new seawall. A good part of her hull has been purposely left in place under water for the public to see as they stroll the walkway above.
(Photo - Dowling collection)

The decade of the 1890's was unkind to one of the oldest fleets on the Great Lakes, and the family that started it under Captain Philip Minch about 50 years earlier. Ships were sunk, and the family and the crews felt the pain of lost of lives in this decade. The daughter of Captain Philip Minch, Sophia, had married a young lawyer and businessman named Henry Steinbrenner, who was reluctant at first to become involved in Great Lakes shipping. However he did, and in 1901, with the older Minch fleet, he formed the Kinsman Marine Transit Company. The need for a modern fleet was apparent, and the first vessel for this new enterprise was built in 1901, and took the name, Henry Steinbrenner. This ship was built by Jenks Shipbuilding at Port Huron, Michigan, at 440 feet long, which put it among the larger boats on the Lakes. Kinsman would become a company that would haul iron ore, coal, and stone, but grain would become its main business. This first Kinsman boat would soon be joined by other newly built vessels for the fleet, but this steamer would begin a career of accidents over the years. After 52 years of service this first Henry Steinbrenner would end in one more major accident when she foundered in Lake Superior in a storm on May 11, 1953. Seventeen died, and 14 survived of the crew. Three subsequent vessels would carry this name, but the sinking of the first one is still remembered.
(Photo - Dowling collection)

Wood hulled vessels on the Great Lakes that were hauling heavy cargos like iron ore, were proving inadequate, and were limited in the size in which they could be built. Iron and steel hulled ships were being experimented with, and developed in the 1880's and the 1890's. One steel hulled giant at the time was the 1890 built Western Reserve, at 300 feet long and 41 feet wide. This Cleveland, Ohio, built ore boat was innovative, and a true prototype when she entered service. It was built for the Minch family shipping business, which dated back to the 1840's under the guiding hand of Captain Philip Minch. Modern and up to date, if not ahead of its time, the Minch family was proud of this new creation. Unfortunately, this steel hulled ore carrier, the Western Reserve, was tragically lost in a storm on Lake Superior in August, 1892. Very sadly, several Minch family members, including children, were along for what should have been a pleasant ride on this ship. Only one crewman survived. This devastating loss was blamed on brittle steel used in the hull. As a result, vessels of steel would be built stronger, and more flexible. But, the Western Reserve is remembered most in the annals of Great Lakes shipwrecks and tragedies.
(Photo - Dowling collection)

In the late 1880's Alexander McDougall developed the "whaleback" designed vessel in response to the quickly developing bulk cargo trades on the Great Lakes. It was different and innovative with its rounded hull shape and "pig nose" for a bow. The Henry Cort was one of these, built in 1892 at Superior, Wisconsin. Unlike others of this unusual design, this 335 foot, 2234 gross ton vessel was built as a package freighter with the name Pillsbury. In 1896, the Rockefeller steel interests bought this boat, converted it to haul bulk iron ore like other whalebacks, and renamed it Henry Cort. In 1901 the Cort and many other vessels became part of the big U. S. Steel Corporation, and its Pittsburgh Steamship Company. She had an eventful career. In 1917 she sank in Lake Erie in a collision, but was salvaged. The Cort was sold in 1927, only to end her days wrecked on a breakwall in December, 1934, at Muskegon, Michigan. Broken in two, she was scrapped in 1935.
(Photo - Dick Wicklund collection)

At 278 feet long, the Ira H. Owen (2) was large for her day having been built at Cleveland, Ohio in 1887. She had twin stacks side by side. Vessels on the Great Lakes carried not only iron ore, stone, and coal, but various types of grain as well. This was the cargo she was hauling when she was caught in the big 1905 storm on western Lake Superior in late November. She was driven onto rocks near Outer Island in the Apostle Islands area, of northern Wisconsin. She had left Duluth, Minnesota, with grain, but the cargo was destroyed with this vessel as it was pounded to pieces. Sadly, nineteen lives were lost.
(Photo - Port Huron Museum collection)

When one reads about the great 1905 storm on western Lake Superior, the name Mataafa is automatically associated with it. This ship was only six years old then, having been built for the Minnesota Steamship Company at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1899. Her name was Pennsylvania originally, which was changed in 1900 to Mataafa. The progression of Lake boats in size was evident by her 450 foot length, putting her among the biggest. In 1901 Mataafa became part of the biggest fleet of ships on the Great Lakes, the Pittsburgh Steamship Company of the U. S. Steel Corporation. On November 28, 1905, while trying to return and seek shelter from the storm, she was thrust on to the piers at the Duluth, Minnesota entry, and sank in shallow water off shore. She was badly beaten and broken by the storm, in which nine of her crew died. However she was salvaged and returned to service, and sailed for the fleet until 1946. She was converted to hauling new automobiles, and was often seen on the Detroit River until 1964. Sixty years after her famous accident, she was towed to Germany for scrapping.
(Photo - Dick Wicklund collection)

This wooden lumber carrying steamer was built by the Simon Langell shipyard in St. Clair, Michigan, in 1881. Ogemaw's length was 167 feet, and 30 feet in width for this 625 gross ton vessel. She had several owners over her forty-one years of service. Used mostly in the hauling of lumber, she would tow schooner barges laden with wood as well. Ironically, on December 3, 1922, she burned to the waters edge in the St. Clair River near St. Clair, where she had been built those many years before.
(Photo - Port Huron Museum, Inches collection)

This 296 foot long vessel built in 1889 at Wyandotte, Michigan, shows the evolution in design of Great Lakes boats to carry heavy bulk cargos, like iron ore. The McDougall whaleback came at the same time, but the Palmer's design would herald the more conventional style of ships for the Lakes, of which hundreds would be further developed and built. Practical and versatile, these ships were the coming choice of shippers on the Lakes. However, the Palmer would be quickly out dated in technology, but continued on until 1905. She was only sixteen years in service when she was lost by collision in dense fog, and sank in deep water near Stannard Rock in Lake Superior, May 16, 1905. The crew escaped safely after this ship was nearly cut in two by the big steamer Harvard.
(Photo - Dick Wicklund collection)