The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Merchant (Propeller), 1 May 1873

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      The merits of iron as compared with wood for shipbuilding purposes is being thoroughly canvassed by those interested in the subject. Those who have had experience with iron ships are firm in the belief that the mead of superiority should be accorded to iron, while a large class of vessel owners are as firmly convinced that wooden ships are the most profitable. The limited experience which Americans have had with iron vessels renders it somewhat difficult for them to make an intelligent comparison of the merits of the two classes of ships.
      But it is safe to say that the record of our fresh-water iron vessels is eminently satisfactory. There are at present ten iron steamers navigating the lakes. Only two of them, however, have been in service any great length of time. But the record of these two vessels is such as to show the value of iron for ships intended for the lake service, at least. The United States iron steamer MICHIGAN, has been in commission for twenty-nine years, and her plates and frames are reported to be still perfectly sound; while the wooden revenue cutters built during the war and used in the same service, have nearly all been condemned by the Government as unfit for further use.
      The record of the iron propeller MERCHANT is equally as good. This vessel was built in 1862. She has been in commission for ten years, each year having a business season of seven and a half months. During these ten seasons of navigation the MERCHANT has, by official computation, travelled a distance of 305,000 miles, transporting a west-bound freight aggregating 50,369 tons, and an east-bound freight aggregating 125,161 tons. This freight consisted of 948,607 bushels of wheat, 1.128,493 bushels of corn, 138,035 bushels of barley, 1,410,725 bushels of oats, 246,461 barrels of flour, and 25,206,243 pounds of sundries. The estimated value of the west-bound merchandise was $10,073,860, and the actual value of the east-bound products amounted to $5,645,374, making a grand total of $15,719,234. The losses attending the transportation of this large quantity of property have been very trifling. The underwriters have never been called upon to contribute towards making good a loss greater that $2,000. The MERCHANT's gross receipts for the time above specified were $634,935:35, and her expenses amounted to only seventy-four per cent of her gross earnings. Captain Albert Briggs has commanded her ever since she was launched, and he has just been promoted to the responsible position of fleet captain for the Erie & Western Transportation Company. This company owns several other iron propellers, and they are well satisfied with the change from wood to iron vessels.
      The MERCHANT is now in dry dock at this port having thirty feet added to her length. This addition will increase her carrying capacity 200 tons. When she was cut in two in the dock her iron frame and sides were found to be as sound as they were when put together ten years ago. Where is the wooden propeller as the same capacity as the MERCHANT that can show a record like this, and then at the end of ten years of continual service be in a good seaworthy condition ? There is nothing like practical experience for solving questions such as those occupying the attention of ship owners in this country at the present time. The MERCHANT was the first iron merchant vessel built on the lakes. Since then the same men who built her have had constructed on their own account, or have been interested in the construction, of five other iron steamers, all of them larger than the MERCHANT. It is not likely that these practical men would have pursued this course if their first experiment had not convinced them that iron was superior to wood for ships. The large transportation companies of this port, have also had iron vessels built to take the place of wooden ones, and the new steamers are now on the stocks in process of construction. Judging from the progress that has been made in iron ship-building on the lakes within the past few years, it looks as though it were only a question of time when our fresh water steam-fleet will be largely composed of iron vessels.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      March 1, 1873

      . . . . .

      The work of enlarging the iron prop. MERCHANT, of the Anchor line, having been completed she has been placed in service for the season and is now well on her way to Chicago for a grain cargo. The change occasioned by the addition of 30 ft. in length is a decided improvement in her appearance.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      May 26, 1873 3-5

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William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Merchant (Propeller), 1 May 1873