Destroyed By Broken Propeller Blade
more than a century of mystery, the cause of the sinking of the wooden-hulled steamship Indiana off Lake Superior’s
Crisp Point on June 6, 1858, has been discovered. Divers who found the wreck say the vessel was hulled by the very thing that
made it unique . . . one of its propeller blades.
launched in Vermilion, Ohio, in 1848, the 145-foot-long “schooner-barge” was one of the first propeller-driven
steamships used on the Great Lakes. Earlier steamships were driven by massive paddle wheels mounted on their sides. Of even
more historic interest, the propeller was designed by famed inventor John Ericsson and was among the first of his new propellers
to be used to drive American steamboats.
the wreck, which lies somewhat intact in about 100 feet of water, divers found that one of the propeller blades broke loose
and struck the ship’s sternpost, which caused the leak that sank the Indiana. The 21 crew members who escaped the ore-laden
ship before it sank said the vessel began vibrating and it was speculated that the shaking opened the ship’s seams.
was built for Watson A. Fox of Buffalo, New York for the Clipper Line, a business that existed for only one year. Frank Perew,
who became well known in the lake’s shipping industry, bought a half-interest in the Indiana in 1854 and served as its
master for the next two years. He was aboard the Indiana on the day it sank.
was laden with a cargo of ore loaded at Marquette when it foundered.
was unique in other ways. It was built with flared sides, giving it a wide deck that could be loaded with deck cargo. The
stern was tapered like the bow making it difficult to tell whether the vessel was coming or going when observed from afar.
also was powered by a steam engine of very early and historic design. After the wreck was found, the engine and propeller
were salvaged by the Smithsonian Institute and put on display at the famous museum in 1979.