Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Great Lakes Engineering Works

The Great Lakes Engineering Works (GLEW) was incorporated on June 1, 1902, and purchased by the Riverside Iron Works, the old Hodge works, who were the builders of marine engines in Detroit.  In Early 1903, work was commenced on the shipyard with 1.5 million being invested into the enterprise.  The first steamer was launched on May 5, 1904.  The company continuously employed 3,000 employees within the three plants:  The main engine works, located in Detroit, the shipyard in Ecorse, and the shipyard at St. Claire.

George H. Russel, Colonel F.J. Hecker, W.G. Mather, and Joseph Boyer purchased the old Hodge plant with the capitalization help of Antonio Pessano.  From 1902-1905, Pessano turned the Hodge plant into the largest steel shipbuilding plant on the Great Lakes and expanded it into River Rouge-Ecorse.

Located in Ecorse, the plant covered an 85-acre tract with 1,400 feet on the Detroit River, and was built around the center of the old Hall Brick Yard.  Both the Michigan Central and Detroit Southern railroads had tracks into the yard.  With four shipbuilding berths, both 600 feet long, an electric traveling crane to carry the components of the ship from shop to ships, the GLEW was a modernized shipyard of the day.  A floating dry dock was later added, and a subsidiary plant in Ashtabula, Ohio was opened.

During World War I and II, the U.S. Shipping Board ordered at least 60 cargo ships from GLEW to transport ore from Lake Superior to the Midwestern blast furnaces that produced steel needed for the war effort.

The well-known Edmund Fitzgerald was built and launched at the River Rouge Yard of the GLEW.  Called the Queen of the Lakes because of her size at 8,500 tons, the Edmund Fitzgerald was ahead of her time. Nevertheless, when on November 10, 1975 the Fitzgerald encountered heavy Lake Superior weather, it couldn’t withstand the force of the storm, and sunk, along with all 29 members of her crew.

Many of the 303 or 338 vessels (depending on sources and total shipbuilding from Detroit and Ashtabula), did not cease sailing the Great Lakes when Great Lakes Steel bought the company in 1961 and closed the GLEW doors.

Written by Stacy Newman



Photo of the launch of the EDMUND FITZGERALD, 1958

Sketch of the Great Lakes Engineering Works, 1919

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