Ore Carrier Vienna Sunk In 1892 Collision
By James Donahue
The propeller Vienna had been a workhorse on the Great Lakes for 19 years before it was sunk in a collision with the
steamer Nipigon in Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay in the early morning hours of September 17, 1892. Nobody was hurt but
the vessel and its cargo of iron ore was lost.
The 191-foot-long Vienna, Captain J. W. Nicholson at the helm, was steaming from Marquette to Sault Ste. Marie with
the schooner Mattie C. Bell in tow. Both were laden with full cargos of ore. The weather was fair.
When off Whitefish Bay they were met by the upbound Nipigon, also 191 feet long and steaming light with the schooners
Melbourne and Delaware in tow. Steamship owners found it profitable in the years after the Civil War to increase cargo loads
by using wooden schooners as tow barges during the long hauls to the steel plants in Ohio.
As the two steamships approached each other for what should have been a normal port-to-port passing, something went
wrong and the Nipigon veered unexpectedly to port. Its bow rammed the side of the Vienna’s wooden hull below the water
Both vessels dropped their consorts and the Nipigon, which was not sinking, made an unsuccessful attempt to tow the
Vienna to shallow water. The Nipigon took the Vienna’s crew aboard before the Vienna foundered.
The cause of the accident was never made public.
The Vienna rests upright and intact in 120 feet of water just over a mile off the Northern Michigan coast. While the
crew escaped uninjured at the time of the sinking, the wreck has claimed four lives of sports divers since its discovery in
While it survived for 19 years after its launch in Cleveland in 1973, the Vienna was not considered a lucky ship. It
ran around on Lake Huron’s Presque Isle in 1876, then sank later that year in Lake Superior.
The Vienna was salvaged and rebuilt in 1876. Her refitting included adding a second deck to allow for increased cargo.
Then in 1883 while approaching the Willow Street bridge in Cleveland, the Vienna sustained extensive damage when the bridge
swung into it.
The Vienna was heavily damaged again after it stranded on an uncharted shoal in the Straits of Mackinac in 1887.
This ship was owned by the Cleveland Transportation Company from the time it was built until 1890, when it was sold
to the Orient Transportation Company.