Ships 2


Ships 3

Steamship Michigan

Nineteenth Century Steamship Michigan

By James Donahue

The first real steamship built at Detroit in 1847 was the Michigan, a 156-foot-long vessel propelled by duel engines working wheels on both sides. It was an early design for steamships, and the fact that the two wheels were powered by separate engines sometimes created problems.

While the arrangement worked well in calm weather, when the vessel was rolling in high seas and stormy weather, the raising of one wheel out of the water while the other was laboring in deep water caused the boat to lurch and jerk from side-to-side. Passengers and crew members had to hang on for dear life.

One lake historian noted that the Michigan may have been the only steamship built with duel working engines. It appeared to have been an experiment gone wrong.

The Michigan was built by Oliver Newberry, a Detroit ship owner. Sailed by a Captain Blake, the steamer made numerous trips on the Detroit River and beyond, sometimes making pleasure excursions as far as Lake Michigan.

Old newspaper clippings lauded the luxurious furnishings on the steamer. One description stated: "The gentlemen’s dining room contained 30 births aloft the engines and six staterooms forward with three berths each. The intermediate space between the engines formed a part of the dining cabin and was richly paneled and gilded. The Ladies’ cabin on deck contained 16 births and was elegantly furnished. The forward cabin contained 44 births."

Just reading the way those berths were packed it is easy to see that passengers were packed on that boat like sardines. Imagine sailing steerage, squeezed in a single room with 43 other people. The luxury rooms had three to a berth, all trying to sleep on the deck directly over the paddle wheels and next to the steam engines.

We could not determine how long the Michigan served as a passenger carrier. Eventually it was stripped down and used as a lumber barge.

The Michigan sank in a Lake Erie storm on Oct. 30, 1868, somewhere between Madison and Conneaut, Ohio. It was one of three vessels in tow, bound from the Saginaw River to Buffalo when the tow line broke. The crew escaped.