The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), September 24, 1883

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The disasters on the lakes this fall - and we have not yet experienced our worst weather - are simply disgraceful in our steam and sailing marine. It is bad enough to run vessels in the lumber trade which must be kept free of water by constant pumping, but it is infinitely worse to run propellers which are not much better capable of withstanding ordinary elemental shocks in the passenger and merchandise trade. Last season a gentleman of this city made a tour of the lakes in what he supposed to be a staunch propeller. At one of the Lake Superior ports, however, while awaiting a consignment of iron ore, he observed that it was necessary to keep the vessel clear of water at her dock by the use of the steam pump.

The truth is the material of which most of our lake vessels are constructed is antiquated. Now that propellers and so-called steam barges are made so much longer in proportion to their depth than was formerly the case, iron alone is suitable for their construction. But the tariff makes iron too costly to be profitably used, so timber supplemented by arches is considered good enough marine architecture for the lakes. But even in an ordinary gale of wind these arches are likely to work at the ends, in which case they are worse than useless, as their dead weight simply tends to hasten the catastrophe which they are intended to prevent.

The entire Northwest is not only thus made to contribute to Mr. John Roach's and Mr. Cramps subsidies, but the lives of its people and their property are year after year exposed to peril through the obstinacy with which a majority of the public cling to an antiquated mode of water conveyance. On the ocean no steamers of wood are now to be found.* It would be impossible to construct them of their present size of this material. Even the modern mode of dividing vessel into water-tight compartments, if possible in the cases of wooden propellers and steamers, is never resorted to.

By and by, when the Canadian canals are enlarged to the proposed capacity, we will have iron steamers on the lakes; but in that case, unfortunately, they will be foreign vessels, while the native ship-owner will not only be excluded from the best departments in the lake-carrying trade, but will find his property worthless on his hands. - [Chicago News.

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* Checking the 1884 Merchant Vessels shows that only about 2/3s were wood, but iron construction was kicking in a big way for new vessels. On the lakes major builders like Globe Iron Works and Detroit Dry Dock were building passenger steamers almost exclusively of iron. Iron technology was not yet completely trusted, and many builders were unwilling to commit to the huge expediture necessary to convert a shipyard and its workers from wood to metal construction techniques.
Date of Original:
September 24, 1883
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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), September 24, 1883