The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Commerce of Great Lakes
Daily Palladium (Oswego, NY), 14 Sep 1907

Full Text
Commerce of Great Lakes
Famous Sailing Vessels Have Disappeared
Only a Few Remain, Mostly on Lakes Michigan and Ontario -Wooden Boats Also a Thing of the Past - Big Steel Carriers Take Their Place.

The day of the sailing vessel on the Great Lakes is past. There was a time when these boats played a most important part in the commerce of the Inland Seas, when the lakes were alive with their spreading canvas and when these vessels made fortunes for their owners.

That was when grain and lumber were the principal articles of commerce. But now to see a sailing vessel is a rarity, especially on Lakes Eerie, Huron and Superior, where by far the greater portion of the lake commerce is found today. In fact, it is possible to make a journey of the four upper lakes and not see a sailing vessel at all.

What few boats of this kind, which depend entirely upon the wind for their power of locomotion, still remain, are found on Lakes Michigan and Ontario, more on the latter lake than all the others combined, being engaged in the transportation of coal from this port, Fair Haven and Charlotte to Canadian ports. Those on Lake Michigan are engaged in carrying what lumber there is in the Michigan and Wisconsin ports to Chicago and Milwaukee Many of the sailing vessels now on Lake Ontario originally came from Lake Michigan.

The big freighters have driven the sailing vessels from the lakes. their small tonnage does not make them profitable as carriers, although many of them have been cut down and are used as tow barges in connection with some of the smaller size steam barges.

The Steel Trust, which has seventy-six steam barges and sixty-six tow barges, many of the latter carrying 10,000 and 12,000 tons, has decided not to build any more tow barges and machinery will be put into the best of those which the trust now owns.

With the passing of the sailing vessels also comes the doing away with all wooden built boats on the upper lakes and confining the building of all boats in the future to steel. Even now there are but few wooden boats to be met with.

The great change which has gradually come over the commerce of the Great Lakes is marvelous, especially to the old timers who can go back and see things as they existed a third of a century or more ago.

What an important part of Oswego played in the Great Lakes commerce in those days with our big fleet of sailing vessels and when a 30,000 bushel cargo of grain from Chicago was hailed as an unusually large load and something to make special mention of. Now the big steel freighters bring down 700,000 bushels in one load and nothing is thought of it. What a difference, indeed.

But the limit of construction of these big carriers has been reached. The largest are now 605 feet in length, as large as can be handled with any degree of safety, especially in the severe weather of the Spring and Fall which is found on the lakes. Larger boats would be considered unsafe and as it is there are but certain ports where the present big boats now go.

Lake Michigan today is almost as void of commerce as is Lake Ontario. In the Fall and Spring thee is some little grain handled out of Chicago, but for the rest of the year the commerce consists mostly of coastwise business, which the passenger steamers and package freighters take care of.

But Lake Michigan is going to get a portion of the great iron business through the establishment of big steel plants at Indiana Harbor and Gary, and already the smaller size boats, for thee are no harbors at these places, nothing but the open lake, are beginning to go there.

Media Type:
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Date of Publication:
14 Sep 1907
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
Richard Palmer
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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Commerce of Great Lakes