Year Built: 1958
Builder: Great Lakes Engineering Works, River Rouge, MI
Registry: U.S. 277437
Laid Down: August 8, 1957
Launch Date: June 7, 1958
Commissioned: September 22, 1958
The Edmund Fitzgerald was constructed in 1958 by Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan, as a gearless bulk carrier for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. She was to be operated under a long-term charter by the Columbia Transportation Division of Oglebay Norton. She was designed with luxurious guest quarters and served as the flagship of the Columbia Transportation fleet her entire career.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was the first of two similar sister ships constructed by Great Lakes Engineering Works, the other being her sister Arthur B. Homer of 1960, constructed for Bethlehem Steel. The Homer was of a slightly different design, being 730′ long, and she lacked the guest quarters of the Fitzgerald.
- Bow thruster installed, Fraser Shipyards, Superior, WI, 1969.
- Boilers converted to oil-firing and automated, Duluth, MN, 1972.
Length Overall: 729′
Length Between Perpendiculars: 711′
Loaded Draft: 28’07”
Capacity: 26,600 Tons
Vessel Type: Gearless Bulk Carrier
Number of Cargo Holds: 3 [Hatch-Hold Arrangement: 7-6-8]
Number of Hatches: 21
Primary Operations: Ore Trade
Engine Type: Cross-Compound Steam Turbine
Engine Manufacturer: Westinghouse Electric Co., Pittsburgh, PA
Engine Model: Double Reduction-Geared Cross-Compound Steam Turbine
Number of Engines: 1
Rated HP: 7500 SHP
Boiler Type: Coal-Fired Water Tube Boiler
Boiler Manufacturer: Combustion Engineering, New York, NY
Boiler Size: 13,288 sq. ft.
Number of Boilers: 2
Edmund Fitzgerald – 1958-1975
Owner: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., Milwaukee, WI
Operator: Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Co., Cleveland, OH [Charterer]
Flag: United States
Home Port: Milwaukee, WI
In 1957, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company contracted Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan, to construct the largest bulk carrier on the Great Lakes at the time. The keel for this new vessel, was laid on August 8, 1957, and was christened Edmund Fitzgerald and launched into the waters of the Detroit River on June 7, 1958. The Fitzgerald would be operated under a 25-year charter to Oglebay Norton Company’s Columbia Transportation Division. She was designed with luxurious guest quarters and served as the flagship of the Columbia Transportation fleet her entire career. The Edmund Fitzgerald sailed on her sea trials on September 13, 1958, and entered service on September 22, 1958, departing Detroit for Silver Bay, Minnesota, to load iron ore.
The Fitzgerald, being one of the largest ships on the Great Lakes at the time, set many cargo records during the 1960’s, trading places with the Edward L. Ryerson for the largest cargo of iron ore. She was one of the most popular ships on the Great Lakes.
A diesel bow thruster was installed onboard the Fitzgerald by Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin, in 1969. Edmund Fitzgerald collided with the Canadian steamer Hochelaga at the mouth of the Detroit River on May 1, 1970, suffering minor damage. In 1972, her boilers were automated and converted to oil-firing while in winter layup at Duluth, Minnesota.
Edmund Fitzgerald loaded her final cargo, a load of taconite pellets, at the Burlington Northern Railway Dock at Superior, Wisconsin, mid-day on November 9, 1975. She left port bound for Detroit, Michigan, soon after loading was completed. As she made her way across Lake Superior, the weather began to deteriorate, and waves built to 12-16 footers with gale force winds. The Arthur M. Anderson, departing Two Harbors, Minnesota, with a load of iron ore, crossed paths with the Fitzgerald later in the day. The Anderson followed her across Lake Superior. Captain McSorley on the Fitzgerald reported early on November 10 that they had lost their radars, and were relying on the Anderson to eye them on radar. Around mid-afternoon, the waves picked up to around 25′ with 70 knot winds. The Edmund Fitzgerald passed very close to a shoal upcropping near Caribou Island on the east side of Lake Superior. Captain Bernie Cooper on the Anderson worried that the Fitzgerald was in too close, and may sustain damage. Soon after, Captain McSorley reported to Cooper that he had lost ballast tank vent pipes, a fence railing, and was taking on water, causing a list to port. The last words from the Fitzgerald were “We are holding our own”, spoken by Captain Ernest McSorely to 1st mate Morgan Clark onboard the Arthur M. Anderson. During a snow squall shortly after, around 7:00 PM, the Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared from the Anderson‘s radar, never to be seen again. Captain Cooper reported her missing to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, but they were unable to immediately send out any response vessels due to inclement weather. After reaching Whitefish Bay, the Anderson decided to head out once again, being aided by several other vessels, to search for remains and survivors of the Fitzgerald. At around 5:30 AM on November 11, the Anderson came across a debris field of oars, life jackets, life rings, life rafts, oil, other debris.
Later underwater surveys confirmed the Fitzgerald‘s final resting place. She was found twisted and in two pieces, the bow upright and the stern flipped upside down. Wreckage and debris is scattered all over the site. The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board and National Transportation Safety Board accident reports both point to faulty hatch covers as to the cause of sinking, but much of the evidence points to her sustaining damage on a shoal and taking on water. It is unknown what truly caused her to sink.
Several underwater expeditions to the wreck site happened over the following years, being concluded in July 1995 when the bell was recovered, and a memorial bell placed back at the wreck. From that time on, the wreck has been off limits to divers and underwater explorers. The Edmund Fitzgerald‘s bell was restored by a team from Michigan State University, and is currently on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, Michigan.
This article was written on the 45th Anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. May her crew rest in peace.
In loving memory of the crewmembers lost aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald
Final Crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Ernest M. McSorley
John H. McCarthy
James A. Pratt
George J. Holl
Michael E. Armagost
Edward F. Bindon
Thomas E. Edwards
Russel G. Haskell
Oliver J. Champeau
Frederick J. Beetcher
Thomas D. Borgeson
Nolan F. Church
Ransom E. Cundy
Allen G. Kalmon
Gordon F. MacLellan
Joseph W. Mazes
Eugene W. O’Brien
Karl A. Peckol
John J. Poviach
Robert C. Rafferty
Paul M. Riipa
John D. Simmons
William J. Spengler
Mark A. Thomas
Ralph G. Walton
David E. Weiss
Blaine H. Wilhelm
Compiled By Brendan Falkowski
Updated on November 10, 2020
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