The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Sep 1, 1896

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Many Men Sailing Today Who Are Not Compelled to Do It

That there has in the past been some money in sailing lake vessels, whatever might be said of the present, and that there are many sailors who have always an eye for the future, is shown by the long list of men who in this line of work have laid by enough to make for themselves a start toward a fortune or have acquired a competency that makes them practically independent of the slings and arrows of ordinary work-a-day life.

It is undoubtedly true that this list is longer than will be the list offered thirty years hence by the men who are beginning as sailors to-day, with nothing but their heads, hands, industry and steadiness as capital. In the olden times the incomes of the small vessels were much larger than those of the big ones to-day, and the masters profited accordingly. The most daring and most skillful and luckiest of them invested their small savings in vessels and interests in vessels, and out of the big earnings of those times came their dividends that were in turn invested and reinvested until in time some of them came to own fleets that to-day are are ranked very large in size and value.

One of the most notable, perhaps the most notable, of these is Capt. Thomas Wilson, of Cleveland, who in his day as master was ranked as one of the best men that ever handled a ship, and is now, in his day as owner, considered one of the wealthiest individual owners on the lakes, and is rated a millionaire. He has been a president of the Lake Carriers' Association, and is looked upon as a power not only in the councils of that body, but in the matter of fixing rates on the classes of freight he chooses to carry. The captain has sailed schooners and passenger and freight steamers, and with all his life of hard toil he bears his 60 odd years with modesty and plainly evident vigor and strength.

Both of the Corrigans, of Cleveland, learned the trade of sailing on the lakes. The wealthier of these, James, has also been president of the big association to which all owners carry their troubles, and as well as a large vessel owner, he is also heavily interested in Lake Superior mines. Five years ago he was considered a millionaire. John Corrigan is the owner of two or three big vessels, and has made some money out of the lakes.

Before lawyer Harvey D. Goulder became an admiralty lawyer he sailed before the mast on lake vessels to get the practical experience it afforded, but history is silent as to whether or no he ever commanded a vessel. He boasts that he never saw the inside of a college, but he is, nevertheless, the foremost admiralty lawyer on the lakes, with a large practice, in which early experience stands him in good stead; and with a goodly surplus that is largely invested in floating property. He is the counsel of the Lake Carriers' Association, and is looked upon as the settler of all questions of importance that arise in disputes and in law, and is the mediator through which the association gets a good deal from the national congress when that autocratic body is in session. It was he more than any other man who killed the chances of the Detroit bridge bill last winter.

The present president of the association, James J. H. Brown, has been a sailor on the lakes, but his brains carried him above that occupation, and to-day he is a vessel owner and manager, a wholesale coal dealer and shipper and is universally respected for his executive ability, a quality that landed him where he is in the association.

The late Capt. E. M. Peck began life as a ship carpenter, working for $1 a day. Then he became a builder, and when hard times came on in the early '70s he sailed his own steamers to save money. He was probably one of the best all-round lake men who ever lived, and when he died in this city a few months ago he left $300,000 behind.

Alex. McDougall, the famous inventor of the whaleback, was once a master of lake steamers, and not so very long ago at that. The homely craft of his design to-day float over the lakes in large numbers, and he is said to have made a snug fortune out of the idea, as well as creating for himself the position of manager of the building plant at Superior, Wis.

Capt. George P. McKay, the treasurer of the association, is an old-time master, and is to-day manager of a large fleet of steamers, and is quite well off besides.

In Detroit, one of the wealthiest of those who gained his start as a master is Capt. James W. Millen, junior member of the firm of Parker & Millen, manager of a large fleet of vessels and one of the owners of the Highland park race track, and also interested in marine and fire insurance. Capt. J. W. Westcott, who has made a goodly fortune out of marine reporting and vessel owning, was once a tug captain out of this port. Capt. J. P. Young, who until last year sailed the J. Emory Owen, and before that had tugs, is said to be so well of at this point that his rents alone are sufficient to keep him in good style. Capt. McLachlan, who sailed the City of Detroit and other steamers in the Detroit & Cleveland Line so many years, to-day holds a large block of stock in that line and in the Northwestern Transportation Co. He also has a small steamer, and once in awhile sails her just for the fun of it. Capt. Mart Swain, who for many years commanded the Favorite and other wrecking steamers, and made quite a name for himself in that line of sailing, saved the biggest part of his income, and to-day has stock in the Swain Wrecking Co., which is named after him, and need do no more work for the rest of his life. The late Capt. Thomas Hackett, who sailed many years in the employ of R. A. Alger, left his family in very comfortable circumstances when he died two years ago. Capt. Barney Wilds left behind him last spring a fortune estimated at $75,000, and he sailed his own steamer up to a few days before his death.

Of the masters now sailing who are rated anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000, there are Capt. William Young, of the steamer Philip Minch; J. P. Cottrell, of the big Victory; Henry Stone, of the North Land; William Gerlach, of the I. W. Nicholas; George Mallory, of the Maricopa; Charles Wilson, of the Uganda; Allen McIntyre, of the Manitou; Thomas Wilford, of the Samuel Mitchell; Charles Montague, of the George Orr; J. D. Peterson, of the J. C. Lockood; W. H. Wallace, of the Vega; Sid Scott, of the J. C. Ford; Allen Fick, of the Fedora; Bernard Nelson, of the W. F. Sauber, and Capt. Stratton, of the Corsica.

Many more names might be added to this list did the space permit, but it must be remembered that when these men made their start there was some life to the lake marine; there was not the cut-throat competition of the present day, and almost any good man with ordinary intelligence stood a good show to make for himself the fortune that seems to be the aim of the hustling portion of mankind.

One of the best known and best liked of the living men who started at sailing, then became masters and then owners, is Capt. "Bill" Mack, who to-day is reported dying at his home in Cleveland. He is largely interested in a good-sized fleet of wooden boats, and is prominent besides in the Lake Carriers' Association.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Though not exactly a shining example of professional journalism, this article from way back when a million dollars was real money lists some of the prominent men in the Lake Carriers' Association of 1896. All of the big shooters mentioned came up through the ranks and "paid their dues," so to speak, to become among the most financially successful lakemen of their time. The article makes some very interesting statements and inferences about profitability and the future of lakes shipping.
Date of Original:
Sep 1, 1896
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Sep 1, 1896