UW-Madison Libraries Wisconsin's Water Library
Great Lakes Ships & Shipping
Recommended Reading List
Every ship has a story. Men wrap their lives about it,
and women their loves, and in so doing it makes
fiction appear dull in comparison.
---Dana Thomas Bowen, Lore of the Lakes, 1940

Shipping on the Great Lakes began in 1679 when the first ship to sail the upper lakes, the Griffon, was launched. By the mid-19th century, the bulk shipping industry had begun on the Great Lakes with the transport of iron ore, wheat and coal. The late 19th century was the Golden Age of Great Lakes shipping when the lines of ships moving up and down the lakes were similar to the bumper-to-bumper traffic of today's urban roadways. Since then, the number of ships on the Great Lakes has declined, but U.S. and Canadian ships as well as dozens of international vessels still regularly travel through the lakes during the typical 10-month shipping season carrying primarily iron ore, coal and limestone. For those interested in Great Lakes ships and the men who worked on them, here are a few recommended books from our collection and a few Web sites to visit. Interested in ships underwater? Check out our recommended reading list on shipwrecks!


Call No. 191083
Freshwater Whales; A History of the American Ship Building Company and Its Predecessors / By Richard J. Wright. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press1969.
The American Ship Building Company was the dominant shipbuilder on the Great Lakes before WWII. Its history and the history of its predecessors begins in the early 1800s and continues from wooden schooners through the development of paddle-wheel steamers to the great steel-hulled bulk carriers.

Call No. 191085
Life on the Great Lakes; A Wheelsman's Story / By Fred W. Dutton. Detroit: Wayne State University Press1991.
Dutton tells of a time when ships were steered by magnetic compass and men had to estimate the degree of error in navigational calculations. He tells of the terror of ships meeting and passing in the fog and the subtleties of handling ships at the docks. Serving under many captains on a dozen and a half vessels, he spices his account with profiles of ships' officers and crew and with details of deckhand work.

Call No. 191101
Steamboats & Sailors of the Great Lakes / By Mark L. Thompson. Detroit: Wayne State University Press1991.
This book is a thorough and factual study of the Great Lakes shipping industry. Author Mark Thompson tells the fascinating story of the world's most efficient bulk transportation system, describing the Great Lakes freighters, the cargoes of the great ships, and the men and women who have served as crew.

Call No. 191102
A Fully Accredited Ocean: Essays on the Great Lakes / By Victoria Brehm. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press1998.
The issues presented here address the fundamentals of existence of life on the lakes for a period of nearly two centuries. These essays bring to light some of the massive disruptions that affected the Great Lakes region as it became one of the most industrialized areas on the continent.

Call No. 191106
End of an Era: The Last of the Great Lakes Steamboats / By David Plowden. New York: Norton1992.
From freighters in motion and intricate machinery in the engine room, to the glow of the firehold and the action of the men who operate and maintain the vessels, these images are an evocative testament fo the Age of Steam and a rich archival slice of our industrial past.

Call No. 191107
Eight Steamboats: Sailing Through the Sixties / By Patrick Livingston. Detroit: Wayne State University Press2004.
Recounting his sailing and land roving expeditions during the tumultuous 1960s, Patrick Livingston presents a series of tales centered on ships of the Great Lakes and the men who sail them.

Call No. 191109
Iron Fleet: The Great Lakes in World War II / By George J. Joachim. Detroit: Wayne State University Press1994.
The Great Lakes shipping industry played a vital role during World War II by transporting the raw materials necessary to meet the production quotas vital to the defense effort. Steel production was especially important to the American war effort, and the Great Lakes bulk shippers supplied virtually all of the iron ore necessary to produce steel.

Call No. 191110
Warships of the Great Lakes, 1754-1834 / By Robert Malcomson. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press2001.
There was a massive shipbuilding effort on both sides of the Great Lakes between 1754 and 1834. Warships that ranged from simple rowing gunboats to gigantic three-deckers were constructed by the French, British, and Americans to help control the wilderness frontier. This well-illustrated, award-winning volume describes the Great Lakes warships of this era, their design and construction and use during war and peace.

Call No. 191111
Queen of the Lakes / By Mark L. Thompson. Detroit: Wayne State University Press1994.
"Queen of the Lakes" is an honorary title indicating that a ship was the longest on the Great Lakes at the time of its launching. From the earliest ships launched in the late 1600s to today, Thompson describes each great ship and its history in detail. Ship by ship, he constructs a chronicle of ship design and the changing role and nature of the shipping industry on the Great Lakes.

Call No. 191115
The Great Lakes Car Ferries / By George Woodman Hilton. Davenport, Iowa: Montevallo Historical Press2003.
There was a period in the United States when the best way to move railroad cars across bodies of water was to load them on specialized ships designed for that purpose. Long regarded as a classic, The Great Lakes Car Ferries tells the story of these boats and of the hardworking and heroic men who battled mechanical problems, ice, and bad weather to get the cars safely across the water. This is a reprinting of the original 1962 volume that contains corrections to the text and newly-written addenda.

Call No. 191116
Schooner Passage: Sailing Ships and the Lake Michigan Frontier / By Theodore J. Karamanski. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, in association with the Chicago Maritime Society2000.
Karamanski tells the stories of the men and women who sailed on the schooners during the 19th and early 20th centuries, their labor issues and strikes, the role of the schooner in the maritime economy along the Lake Michigan basin, and the factors that led to the eventual demise of the schooner.

Call No. 191117
Know Your Ships: Guide to Boats & Boatwatching Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway / By Roger LeLievre. Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.: Marine Pub. Co.2006.
The 47th annual edition of this popular boatwatching guide includes everything ship fans need to know about the vessels sailing the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Find complete data on more than 2,000 U.S., Canadian and International-flag cargo vessels, tugs, excursion boats and barges in regular Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway service, including owner and port of registry, year built, length, beam, depth, type of engine (including manufacturer, horsepower and top speed for major Great Lakes and Seaway vessels), cargo capacity and former names.

Call No. 191132
Lake boats: the enduring vessels of the Great Lakes / By Greg McDonnell. Boston: Mills Press2007.
A full-color pictorial tribute to the historic ships of the Great Lakes with 170 extraordinary photographs by the author and other photographers, introductory essays and a detailed appendix with the specifications and history of each ship in the book.

Call No. 191139
Know Your Ships: 50 Years Guide to Boats & Boatwatching, Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway Sault Ste. Marie, MI.: Marine Pub Co2009.
The 50th edition of "Know your Ships" includes everything ship fans need to know about the freighters, tankers, tugs, salties, passenger ships and other vessels sailing the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.

Call No. 191140
Freighters of Manitowoc : the story of Great Lakes freight carrying vessels built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin / By Tom Wenstadt. Bloomington, Ind. : AuthorHouse2007.
"Freighters of Manitowoc" chronicles the building of freight carrying vessels in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Manitowoc was a tiny fontier town in the 1840s with river entrance on the western shore of Lake Michigan. From these small beginnings, it grew to build and deliver the largest vessels on all of the Great Lakes of the time. In the book's 356 pages, read about the builders themselves, the vessels they built, their yards, how their businesses interrelated to the town, the river, the lake and other waterways of the world.

Call No. 191141
Deckhand : life on freighters of the Great Lakes / By Nelson "Mickey" Haydamacker. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press2009.
With numerous photographs and engaging stories, Deckhand offers an insider's view of both the mundane and the intriguing duties performed by deckhands on these gritty cargo vessels. Boisterous port saloons, monster ice jams, near drownings, and the daily drudgery of soogeying---cleaning dirt and grime off the ships---are just a few of the experiences Mickey Haydamacker had as a young deckhand working on freighters of the Great Lakes in the early 1960s. With Alan D. Millar.

Call No. 191150
The bones of a bulk carrier : the history and archaeology of the wooden bulk carrier / stone barge City of Glasgow Greenville, N.C. : Program in Martitme Studies2003.
This book discusses the history of the wooden bulk carrier.

Call No. 191156
Maritime Milwaukee Arcadia Pub2011.
This book explores the growth of the city's port and three riverfronts through a variety of photographs spanning the 1800s to the present thanks to the archival preservation of collections by the Port of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Public Library, and the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.

Call No. 271341
Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors / By Ivan H. Walton and Joe Grimm. Detroit: Wayne State University Press2002.
Stories, lyrics and musical scores capture the rich oral tradition of sailors navigating the Great Lakes during the nineteenth century. The tales of ghost ships, deadly storms, lost love, and life on the water, all nearly lost as steamboats replaced schooners, live on in this collection that will entertain and educate readers.

Call No. 271362
Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook: Discover Their Culinary Legends / By P. K. McKenna. Eastport, Mich.: Creative Characters Publishing Group2001.
Discover the history of 40 ships that sail or have sailed the Great Lakes including tall ships, freighters, Coast Guard vessels and passenger ships. Then meet the men and women responsible for the more than 400 recipes featured in this volume of Great Lakes culinary delights.

Call No. 281417
Guardian of the Great Lakes; The U.S. Paddle Frigate Michigan / By Bradley A. Rodgers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press1999.
Launched in 1843, the USS Michigan was the first iron-hulled war steamer in the U.S. Navy. Its mission was to patrol the often volatile Great Lakes region to quell port town disturbances, while at the same time rescuing both Canadian and American ships in distress. In its eight-decade patrol of the Great Lakes, it also became involved in many important events of the time including the timber rebellion of the 1850s and the assassination of "King" Strang on Beaver Island.

Top of Page

Login
UW-Madison Libraries Wisconsin's Water Library University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute