Charles F. Conrad

Charles Frederick Conrad (July 8, 1917 – September 2, 1995) was the founder of the Lake Michigan Carferry Service. He is also known as an industrialist who made environmental test chambers for the aircraft and aerospace industries.

Charles F. Conrad
Charles Frederick Conrad

July 8, 1917
DiedFebruary 9, 1995(1995-02-09) (aged 77)
Resting placePilgrim Home Cemetery
Parent(s)James Conrad, Ella Conrad

Early life

Conrad's parents were James and Ella. He was born in Ludington, Michigan, on July 8, 1917.[1] His father worked for 35 years on carferries.[2] Conrad graduated from Ludington High School in 1935.[3] From 1935 to 1936 he had part-time jobs as a dishwasher at Stearns Hotel and as a woodworker for Carrom Manufacturing Company and Thompson Cabinet Company, both in Ludington. During this time he took correspondence school courses to learn refrigeration.[4]

Conrad's first career job was in 1937. During this time Conrad worked full-time as a refrigeration service repairman in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He moved to Lansing, Michigan, in 1940 and worked in the refrigeration field. Conrad then moved to Holland, Michigan, in March 1941, and in that year established a refrigeration service business, having borrowed "three or four hundred dollars". In 1945 it was re-established as Charles F. Conrad Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Service/Sales Company.[4]

Mid life

In 1951 Conrad started a company called Conrad, Inc that was involved with designing and building extreme temperature environmental chambers for testing precision electrical and mechanical components. The chambers were capable of going to one hundred and twenty-five below zero. He built the first unit on the front porch of his home in Holland, Michigan, and managed to sell a few of these units, one to General Motors Heat Treat Lab in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Conrad's company eventually merged into Crampton Manufacturing Company at the end of 1954.[4]

Conrad was a Crampton company employee until 1962, when he quit and started a company called Thermotron with a budget of a thousand dollars. His new Holland company received their first order to build some environmental test chambers from Republic Aviation to test precision aircraft components under extreme temperatures. At the time he was the only employee.[5]

The company eventually grew to over 500 employees, becoming the largest in the industry. The company expanded from one office building location to seven factories in Holland, Michigan. The environmental test chambers were also used in the aerospace industry to test satellite electronics and for the national space program of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects. His company title was President, Chief Engineer, and Sales/Marketing manager.[4] Conrad sold the company in 1980. He then operated four Ludington area family-type resorts at Hamlin Lake from 1981 to 1987. Five years later in 1992, after spending a million dollars in renovations for the resorts, he sold them.[1]

Lake Michigan Carferry Service

Conrad purchased three ships called SS Badger, SS Spartan and SS City of Midland 41 from the defunct Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation company in 1991.[6] He renamed this company Lake Michigan Carferry Service ("LMC") when the U.S. Bankruptcy Court awarded the Badger and two other ships to the Lake Michigan Carferry Service on February 18, 1992.[7][upper-alpha 1][8] Conrad converted Badger to a tourist passenger cruise ship and automobile carrier from a railroad carferry at a cost of $1.5 million.[9] He put the ship back in service in 1992, hoping to get 80,000 passengers the first season. He exceeded his goal with 115,000 passengers in their first year of operation.[upper-alpha 2] As of 2014 Badger is the only ship carrying both passengers and automobiles across any of the Great Lakes,[11] and it is the last coal fired passenger steamship in the United States.[12][13] Conrad referred to the ship as "The Big Badger".[14] Since 2009 it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.[15]

Badger is the largest carferry on the Great Lakes. It is four hundred feet long and travels at 18 mph to make the four-hour trip across Lake Michigan. It does almost 500 crossings per year during the summer with about six hundred passengers and just under two hundred vehicles (motorcycles, automobiles, RVs, trucks) on each trip. The ship contains 40 staterooms and an outside deck. The ship was designated a registered Wisconsin Historic Site in 1997. SS Badger was named Ship of the Year by the Steamship Historical Society of America in 2002.[13][16]

Later life and death

Conrad sold Lake Michigan Carferry company to a group of its executives in 1994,[17] headed by his son-in-law Robert "Bob" Manglitz.[18] Conrad spent the winters of the last years of his life in Florida. He died at St. Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, in the morning of February 9, 1995.[1]


His wife's name is Elsie Alida Conrad and his two daughters are Barbara and Janet.[1] Janet is the wife of Robert Manglitz, the President and CEO of Lake Michigan Carferry from 1995 on.[19]

Societies and church

Conrad was a member of the Institute of Environmental Sciences, a Paul Harris Fellow of the Holland Rotary Club, director of Ludington Economic Development Corporation, board member of Holland's Tulip Time, board member of the Holland Community Foundation and a president of Midwest Scanton Associates. He belonged to the Zion/Lutheran Church in Holland, Michigan. He was also a representative for restoring "Big Red" lighthouse at Holland, Michigan. Conrad was involved with seven schools that participated in the Tech-Prep Consortium that was associated with West Shore Community College in the Ludington area. He was named the top small business subcontractor in six Midwestern states in 1977 by the Small Business Administration.[1]


Conrad co-authored The Matt Urban Story: The Hero We Never Forgot, in 1989 along with Lt. Colonel Matt Urban (recipient of the Medal of Honor).[20]


Conrad patented a multiple stage refrigeration system in 1954.[21]



  1. "February 18, 1992 On the recommendation of the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, the court awards the vessels to Conrad's company. Lake Michigan Carferry Service resumes the huge renovation and refurbishing work aboard the Badger."
  2. "The first year was deemed a great success with about 115,000 passengers 30,000 more than its initial goal and 34,000 vehicles transported. More than 160 people were employed by the carferry service in 1992."[10]


  1. "Charles F. Conrad obituary". Ludington Daily News. February 10, 1995.
  2. Richman 2000, p. 13.
  3. "Charles Conrad (19171995)". S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry. 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  4. Harvey, Ryan (July 12, 1994). "Interview with Conrad" (PDF). The Joint Archives of Holland / History Research Center. Holland Historical Trust/Hope College / Western Theological Seminary. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  5. "Company Overview of Thermotron Industries, Inc.: Charles F. Conrad, founder of Thermotron Industries". Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg Businessweek. 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  6. Scharfenberg 1994, p. 77.
  7. Zimmermann 1993, p. 30 "Finally, in February 1992, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court awarded the three car ferries to Conrad's Lake Michigan Carferry Service and, on May 15, the company began summer-season Ludington-Manitowao sailings with the Badger--returning service to a route discontinued a decade earlier.".
  8. "Ludington's carferries: the rise, decline & rebirth of a Great Lakes fleet, 18741997". Ludington Daily News. Ludington, Michigan. 1997. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
  9. Chavez 2003, p. 8, 109.
  10. "Ludington's carferries: the rise, decline & rebirth of a Great Lakes fleet, 18741997". Ludington Daily News. Ludington, Michigan. 1997. p. 41. Retrieved 2014-08-29.
  11. "Success on the Water". Grand Valley State University. 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  12. "A Tale of Two Cities". Lakeland Boating. 2013. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  13. Jillian Fulda/The Dibner Intern (2011). "Award Winners" (PDF). Steamship Historical Society of America. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  14. Bloechl, Alyssa (2015). "S.S. Badger visits her Sturgeon Bay maker". Green Bay Press-Gazette. Retrieved June 20, 2017. The “Big Badger,” as Charles Conrad liked to call it, is expected to return to Ludington for the winter by late next week.
  15. NPS S.S. Badger
  16. "History of the Lake Michigan Carferry, the S.S. Badger". Advantage Marketing & Publications, Inc. 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  17. Blume 2011, p. 271.
  18. "Top stories of 2013". Mason County Press. 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  19. "Success on the Water". GV Now. Grand Valley State University. 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2014.
  20. Urban & Conrad 1989, p. 519.
  21. Conrad, Charles Fredrick (1954), Multiple stage refrigeration system Patent No. US 2685778 A, retrieved August 27, 2014


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