Encyclopedia Of Detroit

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

One of the most famous ships ever to sail on the Great Lakes, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was built in 1957 and early 1958 by Great Lakes Engineering Works of Ecorse, Michigan. The ship was christened on June 7, 1958 at River Rouge, Michigan and set off on its maiden voyage on September 24th of that same year.

From the time of her christening until 1971, the Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes, at a length of 729 feet and a weight of 13,632 tons when empty. She was named for the president and chairman of the board of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company which owned her and was permanently chartered to the Oglebay Norton Company of Cleveland, Ohio.

The Edmund Fitzgerald sailed without incident until September 6, 1969, when she ran aground near the Soo Locks in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, causing internal and external damage to the ship. On April 30, 1970, she collided with the S.S. Hochelaga. Less than 5 months later, on September 4, 1970, she sustained more damage after hitting a lock wall. On January 7, 1974, the ship lost her bow anchor near Belle Isle in the Detroit River. This anchor was later recovered and is now on exhibit at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle, in Detroit.

On the morning of November 9, 1975, the ship sailed from Superior, Wisconsin with a cargo of taconite pellets bound for Zug Island in Detroit. In gale force winds with nearly 100 mph gusts, 35-foot waves, and a blinding snowstorm, sometime after 7pm on November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald broke in two and sank more than 500 feet to the bottom of Lake Superior in Canadian waters near Whitefish Bay. The United States Coast Guard instructed all commercial vessels in the vicinity of Whitefish Bay to search for survivors. This included the freighters S.S. Arthur M. Anderson and S.S. William Clay Ford. There were no survivors; 29 men, including captain Ernest McSorley, perished.

In 1976, singer Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the ship and its crew in his haunting ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” On July 4, 1995, the ship’s 200-pound brass bell was recovered from the wreck and is now on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in Paradise, Michigan. In 2006, in order to further protect the wreck site, the Canadian government amended the Ontario Heritage Act to extend the perimeter around the Edmund Fitzgerald to 500 meters so that anyone diving without a permit could face a $1 million (Canadian) fine.



The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, 1960 - 2012.044.743

The launch of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, 1958 - 2013.040.153

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