The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), May 17, 1899

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Capt. J. W. Millen tells how the bow-screw ice-crusher came to be invented: "Back in the early '80's I was master of the tug Niagara, towing several schooners. Bound down we were caught in an ice pack off Buffalo, and could make no progress. I happened to back the boat, and found that it would go through it slowly backwards, so I worked her around, stern first, to Buffalo, and backed strong. The action of the screw pulled the water from beneath the ice, the ice dropped down, and the current from the wheel pulled it out of the way, so that it floated toward the bow. After she had gone some distance, I would ring to go ahead and, after giving her a little run-way, I would back strong into the ice again. In this way I managed to make a path into the harbor and towed the schooners in.

"A year or two later, the Michigan Central, Detroit, Mackinac & Marquette and Grand Rapids and Indiana roads arrived at the conclusion that they must have some kind of steamer to break ice and carry loaded cars across the Straits from Mackinaw to St. Ignace. Up to that time they had to depend only on the small ferry Algomah, with trans-shipments of freight and passengers at both termini. It was a slow and costly process, and the greater part of the freight and much of the passengers were diverted around by way of Chicago, a long, roundabout haul. I heard what was up and was struck with the idea that if the Niagara could do so well with her screw, a steamer could be built with a screw at both bow and stern that would have enormous power, large carrying capacity, and be able to go through almost any kind of ice in the Straits.

"I had a talk with D. McCool, at that time general superintendent of the Mackinac & Marquette road, and he fell in with the idea. Together we went to President Ledyard, of the Michigan Central road, with the scheme. At first he opposed it, but we talked him into it. The three roads began figuring with the Detroit Dry Dock Co., and the price which had first been fixed at $75,000, was gradually raised because of the changing ideas of the managers, until it reached $285,000, and at that figure the contract to build the St. Ignace was given. We all know what a great success she has been, and the larger and more powerful one that followed - the Ste. Marie.

"I am not in the habit of claiming credit for what does not belong to me. This, I claim, is my discovery, and the only mistake we made was in not having it patented. If we had the Russians might now be paying royalties on the bow-screw of its big ice-crusher at work in the Baltic sea."

Media Type:
Item Type:
NIAGARA (US# ) was a 276 ton wooden tug of great power and was skippered by Capt. Millen for the Detroit Transportation Co., a company of which he was part owner. He retired from sailing in 1882 and later became president of the Lake Carriers' Association (1897). He died in 1906.
The big wooden carferry ST. IGNACE (US#116191, 1199 gt) was the marvel of the age when built, and served until 1913. The wooden carferry SAINTE MARIE (US#166574), 679 gt, served as a Straits ferry opposite ST. IGNACE from her building in 1893 until she was replaced by the famed steel CHIEF WAWATAM in 1911. The CHIEF was 2990 gt.
Date of Original:
May 17, 1899
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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), May 17, 1899