Discover the Fascinating History of Great Lakes Shipwrecks

Great Lakes Shipwrecks: The Great Lakes served as an important conduit for the precious materials produced inland throughout the Industrial Revolution. Ships frequently travelled these seas carrying iron ore, lumber, fish, and grain, but the results of turbulent weather were frequently catastrophic.

Just approximately 350 of the 10,000 shipwrecks thought to exist in the Great Lakes are situated in Lake Superior. Of those, it is estimated that fifty wrecks are located in Minnesotan waters. A significant portion of Minnesota’s shipwreck legacy is located in Lake Superior.

While several wrecks have been found, at least half remained unidentified.

The U.S. Lighthouse Service built lighthouses in strategic positions around the Great Lakes region to help with the safe navigation of the frequently dangerous waters. The catastrophic winter gale of November 1905, which left 29 ships crippled or wrecked and killed 78 lives, prompted the construction of Split Rock Lighthouse

The phrase “Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes” originated from the numerous shipwrecks of these unfortunate ships that have been found in the Great Lakes. In addition, a renowned museum dedicated to these Great Lakes shipwrecks has been constructed.

The Great waters Shipwreck Museum estimates that 30,000 people have died and about 6,000 ships have sunk as a result of the waters.

Nonetheless, over 25,000 shipwrecks are thought to be located in the bottom of the Great Lakes, according to historian and Graveyard of the Lakes author Mark Thompson. Now a popular diving destination, some of the Great Lakes’ shipwrecks have intriguing stories about their demise.

Le Griffon

One of the Great Lakes’ greatest mysteries is the 17th-century barque Le Griffon. With a crew of six, she vanished in Lake Michigan in 1679. It is thought that Le Griffon was the first full-sized sailing ship to sail through North America’s upper Great Lakes.

Its discovery has been the subject of over twenty claims, the most of which have been disproven. Le Griffon, built by French adventurer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, arrived at a Lake Michigan island in 1679 after crossing both Lake Huron and Lake Erie. But on the way back from the island to Niagara, the ship vanished in what is now known as Green Bay.

In 2001, renowned Great Lakes shipwreck hunter Steve Libert claimed her wreck in Northern Lake Michigan, close to Poverty Island. Similarly, the wreck near Frankfort, Michigan was reported to have been found in 2014 by treasure hunters Frederick J. Monroe and Kevin Dykstra.

Edmund Fitzgerald

Atocha Shipwreck Facts, Atocha Shipwreck, Atocha Ship sinking

The ship’s narrative One of the most well told tales of the Great Lake shipwreck is that of Edmund Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald was launched in 1958, she remained the biggest ship on the Great Lakes for the next thirteen years, until 1971.

In the winter of 1975, the American Great Lakes freighter tragically capsized on Lake Superior, killing every member of its crew.

The ship sank in Canadian waters after becoming entangled in a violent storm while sailing from Superior, Wisconsin, to a steel factory close to Detroit. There is currently much disagreement over the precise reason why the ship sank without sustaining any visible damage. Among the popular possibilities are that the ship ran aground or sustained damage during the storm.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft discovered the wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald in November 1975, about 15 miles west of Deadman’s Cove, Ontario. The ship’s gong is one of the most notable discoveries from the debris; it is currently on display in the Shipwreck Museum, which is devoted exclusively to these kinds of Great Lakes tragedies and disasters.

Top 5 Bulk carrier Ships: Types, Features, and Major Producers

Carl D. Bradley

Carl D. Bradley Sr. Constructed in 1927, the Great Lakes freighter Carl D. Bradley gained notoriety as the “Queen of the Lakes” due to its length and size at the time it was built. American Shipbuilding, an Ohio-based company, constructed her.

Bradley Transportation operated a self-unloading freighter that served as both a freighter and an icebreaker. Her hull was damaged in an accident in 1957 when she ran against the MV White Rose. The ship ran aground several times the next year, but no one ever reported these incidents to the authorities. Thirty-three of the 35 crew members perished when the ship sank in Lake Michigan in November of that same year due to a storm.

The low quality of steel used in the vessel’s construction resulted in structural problems, which ultimately led to its sinking. The Army Corps of Engineers found the 360-foot-underwater wreck of the Carl D. Bradley in 1959.


The 282-foot-long cargo ship One of the bigger classes of freighters in the late 1800s was Fedora. Regretfully, the ship suffered a fire disaster in 1901 while transporting iron ore from Duluth to Ashland. This was the same path that the unfortunate Edmund Fitzgerald took.

A fire that started in the engine cabin of the Fedora, one of the safest ships ever constructed, led to an extraordinary end. The Fedora burned and subsequently sank into Buffalo Bay’s Chicago Creek, killing none of the crew members but leaving the ship a lost cause.

Nestled in the depths of Lake Superior is the shipwreck of the Fedora. In November 1901, salvage efforts were carried out, and crucial machinery was retrieved for future utilization. Since parts of the vessel reach the surface and potentially cause damage to other vessels, the charred hull presents a risk to boaters and divers.

John B. Cowle

Atocha Shipwreck

The seven-year-old SS John B. Cowle, which belonged to the type of Great Lakes bulk freighters known as “tin pans,” sank in 1909 as a result of a strange accident involving the recently named freighter SS Isaac M Scott. In an accident with another, John B. Cowle was severely damaged, resulting in the deaths of 14 out of the 24 crew members.

The vessels collided as a result of dense fog obstructing clear vision. Nonetheless, the crashing ship played a crucial role in saving a large number of the Cowle ship’s survivors. One of Lake Superior’s most notable and well-preserved wrecks, the vessel’s wreck was found in 1972. There were fewer deaths than anticipated since SS Scott was able to save the crew members who were still alive.

SS A few crew members who were working on the SS Erin at the time died in a collision that involved John B. Cowle and other smaller incidents. Jenks Shipbuilding constructed her, and Cowle Transportation Company ran her. In 1910, a second John B. Cowle was placed into service right after the first one was sunk. Up until 1978, the second vessel was successfully operated.


The steamship Vienna went down in September 1892, lost forever to the waters of Lake Superior, after inadvertently colliding with another steamship that was approaching her from the opposite direction.

Constructed in 1873, Vienna had experienced numerous mishaps throughout her 19-year existence. Three years after her launch, it sank. Both the Vienna and the Nipigon were carrying a large amount of iron ore when they were involved in the ultimate accident. It is believed that the numerous accidents she was involved in caused her hull to require frequent repairs, which led to a weak structure that easily broke apart when she collided with the Nipigon.

The other vessel was pulling the Vienna to safety, but the shoals prevented a successful rescue. The Nipigon took quick action, saving no lives. At that time, Vienna was hauling a schooner, the Mattie C Bell, that was heavily loaded with iron ore. The Bell made it through the sinking. The shipwreck, which was 120–148 feet below the surface, was found in 1975.

Vienna’s wreckage, located in Whitefish Bay, was a well-known diving location. However, following the deaths of four scuba divers, the area was designated as a restricted and protected area. She currently resides in an Underwater Preserve established by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, where artifacts brought to the surface by divers are subject to stringent regulations.

Lady Elgin

Constructed in 1851, Lady Elgin was a passenger ship on the Great Lakes with a wooden hull. The ship sank in an unfortunate accident on September 6, 1860, while it was returning from Chicago with Milwaukee Union Guard soldiers having attended a speech by Stephen A.

The schooner Augusta of Oswego struck the 252-foot Lady Elgin, which was sailing into a fierce wind. Unfortunately, more than 300 people perished when the ship sank later on as a result of the collision’s damages. It’s still one of the worst shipwrecks in the area, even though the precise number is uncertain because the manifest was lost in the tragedy.

Harry Zych found the wreck of the Lady Elgin in 1989 off Highwood, Illinois. She is eligible, but isn’t on the National Register of Historic Places because of the owner’s opposition. The Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago has cataloged the Lady Elgin wreck site, which is composed of four locations with debris scattered throughout and is located at a depth of 50–60 feet. Following the incident, a provision requiring vessels to have running lights was added to maritime regulations in an effort to stop such mishaps. Documents gleaned from the investigations that followed describe how the other vessel underestimated their distance from one another, causing the deadly accident.

Samuel Mather

Devil's Sea

The SS Another instance of two boats colliding in the dangerous waters of Whitefish Bay on the US-Canada border is Samuel Mather. Thick fog surrounding Lake Superior caused Samuel Mather to collide early in the morning of November 1981 with a steamship, Brazil, while he was transporting wheat from the port of Duluth.

The steamer Brazil successfully saved the whole crew of the Samuel Mather. The Mather wreck is currently located near Whitefish Point, eighteen miles from the harbor, at 180 feet of water. Given its location, Samuel Mather is one of the most significant diving and exploration locations for aficionados. She is also almost completely intact, allowing divers to investigate the wreck without worrying about getting hurt.

Whitefish Point Underwater Reserve is in charge of overseeing the wreck site, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum has artifacts on display. Despite numerous attempts to steal them, Michigan State currently owns the artifacts.

Blackbeard: The Crafty and Vicious Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy

Prins Willem V

Following its years of service as the Orange Line between Europe and the United States, the 258-foot ship Prins Willem V drowned in Lake Michigan in October 1964. After surviving a Nazi bombing attempt, the Van Vlier Company’s Prins underwent remodeling for commercial use in 1949. Three miles off Milwaukee Harbor, the Dutch cargo overturned after crashing into a Sinclair Oil Company barge. Every member of the crew on board was saved.

There were numerous unsuccessful attempts to rescue the vessel following the catastrophe in 1958, 1961, and even after 1965. To raise the ship safely, the ownership of the Prins was changed several times between owners. The Wisconsin State now owns and runs the wreck, which is a well-known diving location. One of Milwaukee’s most well-known wrecks is Prins Willem V, also known as the “Willie,” which is still whole and rests at a depth of roughly 80 feet on its starboard side.

John M. Osborn

The last ship on this list of Great Lakes Shipwrecks is the wooden steam barge John M. Osborn, which sank in 1884 near Whitefish Point. She was run by the Cleveland Iron Mining Company and was constructed by the Michigan-based Morley and Hill Company.

Similar to numerous other vessels, the John M. Osborn and the steel-hulled Alberta collided due to unclear and foggy weather that hindered their ability to navigate around an incoming vessel. This resulted in the Osborn being fatally wrecked.

Towards the end of the 1800s, an accident claimed the lives of a few crew members. The John M. Osborn wreck was found in 1984, one hundred years after the tragedy, at 165 feet of water in Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay. To help enthusiasts learn more about these wreckages, a foundation society and shipwreck museum have been established.

It is intended to spread awareness of the specifics and discoveries of these shipwrecks through such concrete organizations. These groups also guard historical places and underwater preserves where scuba divers can explore shipwrecks from all around the world.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top