History of the Iron Ore Trade
The iron ore trade is, of course, the trade of the Great Lakes, but it was not always so. The premier trade for so many years was grain, then lumber took first place, giving way subsequently to coal. In fact, it was not until 1888 that iron ore became the dominant trade of the Great Lakes. Its beginnings were very humble indeed. In order that future generations may have a historical reference, this article will trace the growth of the iron ore industry from its infancy to the present time. The iron ore trade had an influence upon the depth of the channels and gradual evolution in the type of steamer construction, through the development of loading and unloading appliances. The supremacy of our nation in the iron and steel trade in the world is more surely to be traced to the abundance of our Lake Superior ores and the low cost of their transportation than to all of the tariffs ever written. The history of the trade is therefore, one of absorbing interest.
Iron ore was discovered on the Marquette Range on September 19, 1844 by William A. Burt, United States Deputy Surveyor, and party who were surveying in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Burt was the inventor of the solar compass and t was the remarkable variations in the direction of the needle that caused him to ask his party to seek about for that which disturbed it. Outcroppings of ore were found in great abundance; in fact, a mere rip of sod revealed the ore.
In the spring of the following year, Philo M. Everett of Jackson, Michigan visited the region and discovered a deposit which he called the Jackson Mine. He returned to Jackson with a little of the ore, which was smelted. This was the first ore to leave the peninsula of Michigan. In the spring of 1846 a little house was built upon the Jackson Mine location, and when the party returned to Jackson they carried about 300 pounds of ore on their backs. Some of the ore was taken to Mr. Olds of Cucush Prarie, who succeeded in making a bar of iron from it in a blacksmith's fire. This was the first iron ever to be made from Lake Superior ore. The next step in development was the construction of a forge on Carp River, about three miles from the Jackson Mine, and on February 10, 1848, the first iron from the Lake Superior region was made in this forge by Ariel N. Berney. The iron so made was sold to E. B. Ward who used it in the walking beam of the Steamer OCEAN. The forge had four fires, from each of which a lump was taken every six hours, which was placed under the hammer and forged into blooms 4 inches square and 2 feet in length, the daily product being about six tons.
The second forge was established by the Marquette Iron Company at the mouth of the Carp River in the spring of 1850. It received its ore from a mine later known as the Cleveland Mine, located about two miles from the Jackson Mine. The Jackson Mine was located at what is now known as Negaunee and the Cleveland Mine at what is now known as Ishpeming.
During the winter of 1850 about 25 double teams were employed in hauling ore to the forge at the mouth of the Carp River, where it was crushed and then made into bloom iron ready for shipment. The ore was hauled exclusively in sleighs during the winter. The attempt to make iron in the peninsula in these little forges proved most disastrous. The tedious hauling of the ore to the lake, the long carriage to the mills in Pennsylvania and Ohio made the cost of the bloom so expensive that it was impossible for the enterprise to recover its costs. By the time the blooms were laid down in Pittsburgh, they had actually cost $200.00 per ton, and the market rate for iron was then $80.00 per ton!
None of the early companies had any thought of shipping the ore itself to the lower lakes, though in 1850, Alexander Crawford of New Castle, Pennsylvania, had ordered ten tons of the ore sent to New Castle for testing purposes. Part of this ore was used by Mr. Crawford for puddler's fix in his rolling mill at New Castle. The mill was operated by the Cusola Iron Company. The balance of the ore was used in Wick's rolling mill at Youngstown, Ohio for the same purpose. In both cases, the ore was found to be quite satisfactory. It was not until 1853 that the iron companies concluded that the attempt to make iron in the upper peninsula was futile. They then took up the shipping of the iron ore to the lower lakes.
The beginnings of what has since become one of the greatest single trades in the world were certainly not impressive. It has been shown that the only method of bringing iron ore to the lake from the mines was by means of sleighs in the winter time. It became quite apparent that if any considerable business was to be done, the means of transportation would have to be improved. The average load of the sleigh was 3,000 pounds, or a little more the one and one-half gross tons, and was impossible for a team to make more than one trip a day. The whole winter's haul rarely exceeded 1,000 tons. This meant, of course, that no more than 1,000 tons could be shipped the following season.
Among the men attracted to the peninsula was Herman B. Ely, who as soon as he saw the deposits, recognized the need for a railway. He obtained the cooperation of the mining companies, but met with a cold response from capital sources elsewhere. The two mining companies then in existence waited patiently for a year for Mr. Ely to begin construction of his railroad, and then perceiving no sign of movement on his part, engaged jointly in the construction of a plank road to the mines.
The first shipment of ore in any quantity consisted of 152 tons, which was sent by the Cleveland Iron Mining Company to the Sharon Iron Company in Sharon, Pennsylvania in September, 1853. It took four vessels to move the ore from Marquette to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where it was portaged over the falls to be reloaded on another vessel. It was delivered to Erie, Pennsylvania and sent by canal boats to Sharon. The first boat load was delivered to the Sharpsville furnace.
The vessels on Lake Superior at that time consisted of three or four schooners ranging from 15 to 20 tons burden, and a couple of small steamers, all of which had been hauled over the portage at Sault Ste. Marie. Meanwhile, Congress had authorized a grant of land and a company known as St. Marys Falls Ship Canal Company was organized to build a canal around the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Mr. Erastus Corning of Albany, New York, was president of this new firm. Actual construction work was begun in 1852.
Meanwhile, also, the two iron companies were working on their plank railroad and Herman Ely, who by now had been somewhat successful in raising some capital, was busily working on building his railway. In the interim, ore was being hauled in sleighs as had been the practice. The tariff for the haul from the mine to the lake was $3.00 per ton and the price of the ore on the dock at Marquette was $8.00 per ton. The cost of mining was $.50- per ton which allowed a handsome profit if any good volume could be done.
Nearly the whole of the 1,000 tons of the ore on the dock when navigation opened in 1854 was taken by the Forest City Iron Company. It was wheeled aboard the Steamers SAM WARD, NAPOLEON and PENINSULA in barrels and dumped upon the deck. At Sault Ste. Marie, it had to be unloaded and carried over the portage where it was again wheeled upon the vessels and taken to the lower lakes. In this business of portage it may be said in passing that Sheldon McKnight and his old gray horse and French cart occupy a picturesque and commanding position. The faithful animal had the honor in 1845 of hauling every pound of freight that passed to and from Lake Superior!
The canal at Sault Ste. Marie was opened on June 18, 1855, but it was not until November 1, 1855 that the plank railroad was completed to the mines. It lived a strenuous life for two years. The motive power was mules and the cars held about four tons each. A team could not make more than one trip a day, sometimes not even that, and for the entire motive power to move 35 tons from the mines to the lake was counted a big day's work.
When the Land Grant Act was passed in 1856, the plank railroad made overtures for consolidation with Ely's steam railroad. At this juncture Herman B. Ely suddenly died in Marquette, but work which he had undertaken was assumed by his brother, Samuel P. Ely. The steam railroad was finished to the mines in September, 1857. The locomotive Sebastopol was the first locomotive to be used on this railway and therefore the first in the iron country. It had been built by the New Jersey Machine & Locomotive works of Paterson, New Jersey and was carried to Marquette on the deck of the Brig COLUMBIA in 1856. The same brig had carried the first cargo of iron ore from Marquette through the canal on August 17, 1855. Its cargo consisted of 132 tons consigned to the Cleveland Iron Mining Company of Cleveland, Ohio. In all, 1,447 tons were shipped through the canal its first year of operation. The little dock at Marquette was a flat structure without trestle work, and the vessels were loaded by means of wheelbarrows. The crews of the vessels loaded the ore, being paid for doing so at the rate of $.25 per hour.
Practically all the shipments during the first few years were carried by schooners. All steamers in those days carried passengers and were ill-fitted to carry iron ore, though they would occasionally carry a deck load. As a rule the steamers avoided this freight if they could. Such a vessel as a bulk freighter had not been thought of. It was many years thereafter before the ore trade assumed any considerable volume. It had reached 114,401 tons in 1860, but fell to 49,909 tons in 1861, the slump being caused by the breaking out of the Civil War. The grain trade was then, and continued for many years thereafter to be, the premier trade on the lakes. For instance, the grain receipts at the port of Buffalo, New York alone in 1866 were about 1,500,000 tons, and the lumber receipts at Chicago, Illinois were about 400,000 tons, whereas the receipts of iron ore at all Lake Erie ports amounted to only 278,976 gross tons.
At this time, dimensions of the locks at Sault Ste. Marie were 350 feet long by 70 feet wide, with a depth over the sills of 11 feet six inches. This, of course, regulated the draft of vessels in Lake Superior service.
It was not until 1862 that any of the iron companies were sufficiently prosperous to justify the declaration of a dividend. Meanwhile, they had joined in building a wooden deck dock with trestle work at Marquette. The dock had pockets to facilitate the loading of iron ore. This facility was a primitive structure, but it was nevertheless a forerunner of the present great docks, embodying the principles of loading through a spout from a pocket.
Only schooners could be loaded with iron ore directly from the new dock's spouts because the steamers of the day were not yet adapted to the haulage of bulk cargoes such as iron ore. They did not have hatches through their decks, but gangways through the sides after the manner of the package freighters some forty to fifty years later, and beyond. Iron ore shipments to be moved by these early freighter was spouted on the dock and then wheeled aboard in barrows through the gangways. Schooners, therefore, pulled up on one side of the dock directly under the pockets and received their cargoes directly, while steamers moored on the opposite side of the dock. This side of the dock was flat-surfaced and capable of handling all classes of freight.
While putting of iron ore aboard a schooner was comparatively a simple process even in those early days, getting it out again on the lower lakes was quite a different matter. The average cargo was about 300 tons and it took nearly four days to unload it. First of all, a staging had to be built in the vessel's hold upon which the cargo was shoveled, to be re-shoveled upon the deck and then loaded into wheelbarrows and wheeled to the dock. An improvement upon this practice was to unload by means of a block, tackle and horse.
The firm of Bothwell & Morris, who operated the NYPANO dock in the Old River Bed at Cleveland, Ohio usually employed about forty horses in the work of unloading a schooner. One day in the spring of 1867, J. D. Bothwell, who was watching a small engine lifting piles into the air preparatory to driving them into the river bed, conceived the idea that an engine of somewhat similar design could also hoist iron ore from the hold of a vessel. He approached Robert Wallace, of Pankhurst & Company with the idea, and Wallace at once designed and built a little portable 6' X 12' engine fastened to the side of a boiler. It could be moved along the dock to any desired location. After the engine had been installed the first vessel to come along was the Bark MASSILLON. The little engine proved to be much more expeditious in its work than the horses, unloading the bark in a single working day. The engine operated three strands of rope fall, hoisting from the hold of the boat three tubs of iron ore at a time. Orders were given immediately for nine of these little engines and they proved very profitable to the firm of Bothwell & Morris, as their contract with the railway was based upon a fixed percentage of the tonnage handled.
It was the usual practice at this time for schooners to be towed through the rivers, in which business a large number of tugs found profitable employment. In the early 1860's, 93 per cent of the tonnage on the lakes was sail and less than 7 per cent was steam. This led to the construction and operation of a large fleet of tugs on the Great Lakes. A total of about fifty tugs were employed in various Great Lakes ports. Among these vessels were a number of the most powerful and fastest tugs in the world at that time, some of them towing as many as eight to ten schooners in a single tow.
In the early 1870's steam superseded sail so rapidly that the necessity for tugs very rapidly decreased, until the necessity of them for vessel towing purposes ceased to exist.
This method of transportation may be said in general terms to have been the method of the '60's. It was superceded in the early '70's by the system of steamer and barge/barges. In 1869 appeared the forerunner of the then-present type. The Steamer R. J. HACKETT was built by Peck & Masters Shipyard at Cleveland, Ohio, during that year to carry the ore from the Jackson Mine. As the term is now understood, she was the first bulk freighter to be built on the lakes. The HACKETT was 225' in overall length and 32' in width. The engine was mounted in the after cabin. In 1870, the same yard produced the Schooner FOREST CITY, measuring 221' in overall length and 33' 6" in width. This vessel was towed in iron ore service by the HACKETT. This system of iron ore transportation by steamer and consort grew rapidly. In fact, it may be said to have been the prevailing practice for twenty years thereafter.
In 1874, the Steamer V. H. KETCHAM was built at the David Lester Shipyard in Marine City, Michigan. Thousands gathered to see her launched on April 16th for this carrier was twenty feet longer than anything afloat and was regarded as a "monster." She was, in fact, far in advance of dock facilities, though she later became very profitable. The KETCHAM'S dimensions were: 242' in overall length, 41" in beam and 24' in moulded depth.
As previously noted, the draft of iron ore vessels was regulated by the depth of water in the locks at Sault Ste. Marie. By 1870 vessels drawing 13 feet and upward could enter a few of the more important ports, such as Buffalo, New York, Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois. The demand became general for a depth of 16 feet throughout the Great Lakes system. The initiative to accomplish this was taken at the St. Marys Falls Canal by a project to increase its depth from 12 feet to 16 feet by building a new lock that would be 515 feet long and 80 feet wide, overcoming the difference of level of 18 feet between Lakes Superior and Huron by a single lift. The original locks were tandem, having a lift of 9 feet each. The new lock was completed in 1881, but the 16-foot channel in the rivers was not completed until 1884. Meanwhile, the principal harbors had been put in readiness and a fleet of large vessels built to take advantage of the new allowable draft. Iron ore shipments had increased from 278,796 gross tons in 1866 to 2,518,693 gross tons in 1884. The number of vessels had increased but slightly, but the gross registered tonnage had increased about 50 per cent. The freight rate on iron ore, which had fluctuated from $3.00 to $6.00 per gross ton in 1866, had fallen to $1.35 per gross ton in 1884.
In 1882 a departure from the use of wood as a shipbuilding material was made by the construction of the Steamer ONOKO at the Globe Iron Works in Cleveland, Ohio. That vessel was made of iron. The ONOKO measured 302' 6" in overall length, 38'6" in breadth and 24' 8" in moulded depth. For a time it was the largest dead-weight carrier on the lakes and was the first metal bulk freighter constructed on the Great Lakes. The first steel bulk freighter made its appearance on the lakes in 1886. This was the Steamer SPOKANE which was built for the Wilson Transit Company at the yard of the Globe Iron Works, Cleveland, Ohio. This steamer was 324' in overall length, 38' in beam and 24' in moulded depth.
It was not until 1888 that iron ore became the leading article of freight on the Great Lakes. During that year, 5,063,877 gross tons were moved. The growth in vessel tonnage had been steady though cautious. When the 16-foot channel was first projected, the tonnage varied from 600 to 1,000 tons net register, with a carrying capacity about twice the registered tonnage. When the 16-foot channel became available in 1881, the tonnage had grown from 1,500 to 1,900 net register, with a carrying capacity about double that, the increase in size being most marked in steam vessels.
In construction features the type of vessel had practically not varied from the design of the HACKETT and FOREST CITY, except that they were somewhat larger. In 1889, however, the first of a new type appeared, known as the whaleback. These vessels were commonly called "pigs," which, when fully laden, they greatly resembled. This design of vessel was conceived by Alexander McDougall of Duluth, Minnesota. The first such craft was called NO. 101 when launched. It was 198' in overall length, 25' in beam and 18' in moulded depth. This class of carrier created quite a furor for the time being and many thought the type would revolutionize the type of bulk freighter on the lakes because within three years some 30 of them were built. The vessels were normally operated in fleets, that is, one steamer towed one or more barges. The whalebacks were economical to construct and were great carriers, but experience proved that their advantages did not surmount their disadvantages and this type of vessel was gradually discarded in the iron ore trade. One by one, and sometimes in groups, these vessels largely disappeared, with only about a half a dozen left on the lakes in 1910. It has been the history of lake practice that an improvement is no sooner completed than it is found to be totally inadequate to the demands of commerce. The 16-foot channel was no sooner completed when it was realized that it could not permanently care for the growth of lake shipping. Steps were immediately taken to establish a draft of 20 feet.
The construction of a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie was undertaken under the direction of General Orlando M. Poe and a new channel was opened through the system of small lakes and straits known as the St. Marys River, saving eleven miles in distance and practicable for night navigation. In fact, the extent of the improvements in the connecting channels of the lakes is not generally realized. Between Lakes Superior and Huron the aggregate length of new or deepened channels of the lakes is not generally realized. Between Lakes Huron and Erie it is about 23 miles. The great commerce of the lakes, therefore, passes through an artificial waterway of 48 miles. This is 12 miles greater than the length or restricted waterway to be made at the Panama Canal. The new lock, known as the Poe lock, was built upon the site of the original locks completed in 1855. The Poe was opened to traffic in 1896.
As indicating the influence of this gateway into Lake Superior upon vessel construction, it may be noted that more than half the tonnage of bulk freighters built in 1896 exceeded 2,000 tons net register. Six years before, not a single vessel of this tonnage was in service, the mean dimensions of freighters even as late as 1894 being under 300 feet.
In 1895 the first of the 400-footers appeared. This was the Steamer VICTORY, designed and built by the Chicago Shipbuilding Company at Chicago, Illinois under the direction of W. J. Babcock. The VICTORY measures 400' in overall length, 48' in beam and 28' in moulded depth. It was capable of carrying 5,200 gross tons of iron ore at an 18-foot draft. This vessel was taken as an example of the highest development of the bulk freighter at that time. The conditions required for lakes bulk freight movements on the Great Lakes lent themselves to open cargo holds, unobstructed by middle decks. The main deck beams of the VICTORY were uniformly spaced eight feet apart, making a beam at the end of the hatch and one in the center between the hatches, the hatches through the upper or spar deck being 8 feet fore and aft and 24 feet between centers.
It is impossible to intelligently trace the growth of the lake freighter without noting the coincident development of the unloading machine, for the type of unloading machine has virtually dictated the type of steamer. As late as 1880, all vessels were being unloaded by wheelbarrows, little engines on the dock as noted previously, hoisting the buckets out of the hold. In 1880, however, Alexander E. Brown, a young man of great inventive faculties, employed in the office of his father, Fayette Brown, one of the pioneers of the development of the iron ore country, turned his attention to the problem of unloading ships. He developed a single cable-wired rig which served the combined purpose of hoisting the bucket from the hold and conveying it to storage. This rig was installed on the N.Y.P.&O. dock at Cleveland, Ohio in 1882. The plant as installed consisted of five rigs with machinery all in one house. The front pier of these machines was movable, and they were the first movable pier cableways ever built in the United States. They reduced the time of unloading remarkably, but naturally, as the tubs were small and had to be filled by hand, large hourly capacities could not be obtained. But, as the ore could be taken from a number of hatches simultaneously by the rigs, the time of total unloading was greatly reduced.
It is curious that the next step in the development of vessel tonnage should have been made by an interest quite alien to the lakes and without experience in ship owning, ship building or ship operating. During the financial panic of 1893, John D. Rockefeller had become, quite accidentally perhaps, the owner of several iron ore deposits in the Lake Superior region. He contracted the mines' output for delivery to the Carnegie Steel Company. To win a profit from the transaction and to take advantage of the steadily deepening channels, he gave orders through the Bessemer Steamship Company in 1897 for twelve Great Lakes vessels, some of them exceeding in dimensions those of any existing vessel. The largest of the dozen was 475' in length. Thanks to this order, more than half of all the steel tonnage built in the United States during that year was the product of lake shipyards.
It is interesting to note that this order from the Bessemer Steamship Company included two consorts 450 feet in length, though in the early 1890's the practice of building consorts began to be gradually abandoned. Vessel owners began to perceive that the highest economy of operation was reached by the single steamer of large carrying capacity and low power. There was justification of the consort system in the days of wooden ship building because a fleet of sailing ships was in existence whose natural destiny in the evolution of trade was that of a consort. It was not, however, economic to build a new steel vessel for consort purposes. No vessel owner would think of building a consort by 1910, and in fact, none have been built in the past thirteen years.
In 1899 George H. Hulett induced the Carnegie Steel Company to install on its docks at Conneaut, Ohio a new type of unloading machine operating a self-filling bucket. The introduction of a bucket that filled itself worked a revolution in lake practice and all the changes that have come about since have been to the end that the operation of this bucket might be facilitated. In fact, the Hulett unloading machines were unique to the Great Lakes. Over the years they established themselves as the fastest shoreside unloading equipment ever operated in the world!
It was in 1900 that the first 500-footers appeared on the Great Lakes. During that year Augustas B. Wolvin commissioned four steamers to be built. The Steamers WILLIAM EDENBORN and ISSAC L. ELLWOOD were each 497' X 52' X 30' in overall dimensions and were built at the West Bay City Shipbuilding Company in West Bay City, Michigan. The Steamers JOHN W. GATES and JAMES J. HILL were of identical dimensions and were constructed at American Shiipbuilding Company in Lorain, Ohio. The ships were called "500-footers" because their size approached that overall length so closely. This lead etablished by Captain Wolvin was not immediately followed, the tendency during the next several years being toward a somewhat smaller ship approximating 450 feet in length. The facilities afforded by the new dock facilities, however, were gradually working an evolution in the type of bulk freighter on the lakes.
As stated earlier, the ore pockets of the loading docks were spaced on 12-foot centers. With hatches spaced on 24-centers, the vessel could receive its cargo from every other pocket simultaneously. When that series of pockets emptied, the vessel would shift along the dock twelve feet to be exactly in line to receive ore from the alternate series of loaded pockets.
Captain Wolvin had the Steamer JAMES H. HOYT constructed in 1902 at the plant of the Superior Shipbuilding Company in West Superior, Wisconson. This bulk freighter had hatches spaced on 12-foot centers which allowed it to receive iron ore from the spouts in every hatch simultaneously. The carrier had ninteen hatches and measured 376' in overall length, 50' in breadth and 27' in moulded depth. On her first trip, the HOYT took aboard 5,250 gross tons in the record-breaking time of 30.5 minutes and, upon arrival in Conneaut, Ohio, was unloaded in 3 hours and 52 minutes.
Two years later, Captain Wolvin made the most tremendous jump forward in ship size that had been made to date when he commissioned the American Shipbuilding Company to build, at its Lorain, Ohio yard, the Steamer AUGUSTUS B. WOLVIN. It was, in overall dimensions: 560' X 56' X 32'. The carrier also departed radically in construction features from the common lake steamer of the day. Not only were her 33 hatches spaced upon 12-foot centers, but her hold construction was novel. Main deck beams and stanchions were omitted entirely and compensating strength was secured by a heavy plate girder, or arch, across the shipunder the spar deck between every other hatch. These were connected to heavy plate webs running around the entire ship. The tank top was bent up to meet the main deck stringer in the form of a slope, thus forming a continuous hopper. This hopper contrivance not only increased the water ballast capacity of the ship, but brought the ore cargo completely within the sphere of the unloading machines. This form of construction gave total freedom from hold obstruction and allowed the unloading machines free play upon the cargo. Moreover, it permitted the ore pile to be concentrated upon a small bottom area and, therefore, steep and high, affording the utmost convenience to the self-loading buckets. The success of the WOLVIN was instantaneous. On her maiden voyage, the WOLVIN loaded 10,694 net tons of iron ore at Two Harbors, Minnesota for delivery to Conneaut, Ohio. The cargo was discharged in 4 hours and 30 minutes by four Huletts and four Brown Hoists working jointly on the vessel.
Since the building of the WOLVIN, every vessel on the lakes has been built on the girder system, up through 1910. Some have girders straight, some are of arch form and some have hopper sides straight instead of sloping, or have no hopper at all, but none have been constructed on the old system of main deck beams and stachions.
The old order of things entirely passed away. Old vessels were scrapped or altered or forced into other trades and vessel owners filled the shipyards with orders for vessels of this new type.
An example of the above was the order by the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Through its president and general manager, Harry Coulby, the firm gave orders to the American Shipbuilding Company for four vessels to be nine feet longer than the WOLVIN. Subsidiary yards of the company built these freighters thusly: Chicago Shipbuilding Company, Chicago, Illinois - Steamers ELBERT H. GARY and WILLIAM E. COREY; Wesy Bay City Shipbuilding Company, West Bay City, Michigan - Steamer HENRY C. FRICK and, Superior Shipbuilding Company, West Superior, Wisconsin - Steamer GEORGE W. PERKINS. Each vessel measured, in overall dimension,: 569' X 56' X 31'.
Scarcely had the above four freighters been built before the same steamship company placed orders for eight more bulk freighters. All of these vessels measured 605' 6" X 58' X 32'. Five were built at Chicago Shipbuilding Company, Chicago Illinois in 1906. These were the Steamers J. PIERPONT MORGAN, HENRY H. ROGERS, PETER A. B. WIDENER, THOMAS LYNCH and NORMAN B. REAM. The other three were built thusly: GEORGE F. BAKER at Superior Shipbuilding Company, HENRY PHIPPS at West Bay City Shipbuilding Company and THOMAS F. COLE at Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ecorse, Michigan. These latter four vessels began service in 1907.
Lake ship yards received a virtual avalanche of orders between 1904 and 1910, with vessel sizes ranging from 524' in overall length the the COLE at 605' 6". In 1905, 29 such bulk freighters were built; in 1906 - 40; in 1907 - 40; in 1908 - 24; in 1909 - 17 and in 1910 - 26.
Running expenses of these very large carriers were very little more than those of older boats and they carried practically the same crew size. The engines also remained practically unchanged. The vessels built in 1888, carrying about 3,000 tons of ore, have the same machinery as the GARY, built in 1905, which is capable of carrying 10,000 tons of ore. In comparison to their size, these bulk freighters are obviously of very low power, but nevertheless sufficient for the purpose. The triple-expansion engine as installed on these ships has probably reduced economy to its least dimension, consuming 55-hundredths of an ounce of coal per ton mile carried.
As showing the great improvement in methods and cost of unloading, in may be stated that when vessels were unloaded by wheelbarrows it was estimated that it cost 50 cents per ton to unload them. When the first Brown hoisting and conveying machine was installed on the docks in Cleveland, Ohio, it was estimated that it had reduced the actual cost of unloading to 18 cents per ton, and there is every reason now to believe that the actual cost with the Huletts and modern clamshells does not exceed 5 cents per ton, if that.
In the general prosperity of the country, cheap transportation on the lakes has been a factor of prime importance. It is, in fact, responsible for the supremacy of the United States as an iron and steel making country. Were the waters of the lakes dried-up, no railroad, or system of railroads, could hope for a moment to handle this traffic. It would simply cease to exist. The great iron and steel plants of Ohio, Pennsylvania and the central west would close and thousands of allied industries would be abandoned. Three-querters of all the ore used in the furnaces of the United States comes from the Lake Superior region. These deposits are one thousand miles away from the coke and limestone. Were it not for these Great Lakes, there would be no possible means of assembling the ore, coke and limestone to equal the furnace cost of those countries where the ore and coal lie in contiguous hills.
The rate per ton mile of moving freight on the Great Lakes during 1909 was .78 mills. A ton of iron ore is moved a thousand miles on the Great Lakes for seven-tenths of a mill per mile; a ton of iron ore is carried from Duluth, Minnesota to Buffalo, New York at a rate but little in excess of the ordinary railroad switching charge in any of the large cities.
The wonder of lake transportation is the suddenness of it, since it is but little more than half a century old, and its beginnings are well within the memory of men still living. Scarcely more than fifty years ago all the commerce of Lake Superior, as well as all the ships that carried that commerce, could safely be stowed in the hold of any one of the steamers now engaged in that trade. Yet, there are so many vessels now employed in that trade that over a waterway of 1,000 miles one vessel is rarely out of sight of another.
The government is now engaged upon the construction of a third lock at Sault Ste. Marie to be 1,300 feet long and 80 feet wide. It is predicted that in the course of time a large portion of the rapids will be occupied by locks, and the time may be much sooner than expected, so rapid has been the expansion of lake trade. No plans have over-reached it; on the contrary, all have fallen far short in the works created to care for it.