SS America (1898)

America was a packet boat transporting passengers, mail, and packages between settlements along the North Shore of Lake Superior, an inland sea in central North America. Built in 1898, America sank in Washington Harbor off the shore of Isle Royale in 1928, where the hull still remains. The wreck was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.[1]

The America circa 1900
Name: America
Operator: Booth Fisheries Company
Builder: Detroit Dry Dock Company
Completed: 2 April 1898
Fate: Sank 7 June 1928
General characteristics
Type: steel freighter
Length: 183 feet
Beam: 31 feet
Depth: 11 feet
Installed power: 700HP
Propulsion: triple expansion steam engine
Notes: Official No. 107367
Divers preparing to explore the America
LocationNorth Gap of Washington Harbor, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Coordinates47°53′37.9″N 89°13′20.5″W
Area5.7 acres (2.3 ha)
MPSShipwrecks of Isle Royale National Park TR
NRHP reference #84001708[1]
Added to NRHPJune 14, 1984


America (Official No. 107367)[2] was a steel-hulled ship, built by the Detroit Dry Dock Company and launched on April 2, 1898.[3] The ship was 184 feet long, 31 feet wide, and 11 feet in depth.[3] She had a gross tonnage of 486 tons and a net of 283 tons.[3] She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine and two Scotch boilers, manufactured by the Dry Dock Engine Works, delivering 700HP.[3]

Less than a month after her launch, America began a daily run, transporting both passengers and packages on Lake Michigan between Chicago and Michigan City, Indiana.[3][4] The ship remained on this run until 1901; in 1902 she was purchased by the Booth Steamship Company and transferred to service in Lake Superior.[3][4] There, the ship served as a communications link for the western portion of Lake Superior, running three voyages per week among Duluth, Minnesota, Isle Royale, and Thunder Bay, Ontario and numerous small communities in between.[2] The ship carried supplies in and fish catch out, as well as moving both mail and passengers.[2]

America had a number of accidents; the first one barely two weeks after she arrived in Duluth, when the ship ran into an ice floe and stove in her bow.[3] In 1904, she ran too close to the steamer Edwin F. Holmes, destroying five staterooms, and in 1909 she ran aground.[3]

In 1909, the Booth Steamship Company failed and a new company, the Booth Fisheries Company, took over operation of the failed company's assets, including America.[3] In 1911, America was lengthened to 183 feet, increasing the gross and net tonnages to 937 tons and 593 tons respectively.[3][5] The beam and depth remained the same. The rework added 12 more staterooms, bringing the total to 51, of which 43 were reserved for passengers.[3] In 1914, management of the ship was taken over by the United States & Dominion Transportation Company, a subsidiary of Booth.[3]

Also in 1914, America again ran aground, taking considerable damage.[3] On 7 June 1924, she struck a reef, capsized, and sank off Isle Royale, Michigan; all 47 people aboard survived, and she was refloated, repaired, and returned to service. In 1926, she collided with another steamer, and in 1927 rammed the dock and grounded while coming into port.[3]


On June 6, 1928, America steamed out of Duluth on her normal route.[3] She arrived in Isle Royale's Washington Harbor in the early morning hours of June 7 to drop off passengers, and left again before dawn.[3] Once the ship had cleared the dock, the captain turned over the helm to the first mate.[3] Five minutes later, America hit a submerged reef as she was leaving Washington Harbor.[2][3] Although the captain returned to the helm and attempted to beach her, America ran aground on a second reef.[2] All 16 passengers and 31 crew aboard[3] were successfully transported to lifeboats.[2] Within an hour, America slowly settled to the bottom in the north gap of Washington Harbor, leaving only her forward deck and wheelhouse above the waterline.[2][3]

Efforts were made to re-float the ship, but the bidding process was delayed, and a salvage company was not lined up until 1929.[3] Over the winter of 1928-29, the wheelhouse was sheared off and the ship was shifted by the ice to sit lower in the water.[3] By that time, it was thought that raising the wreck would not be financially feasible, and indeed, the salvage company was never able to raise the capital required to raise the wreck.[3]

A group of divers in the 1960s attempted to raise America and bring her to Duluth for service as a museum ship.[2] However, this later attempt was also unsuccessful due to Lake Superior storms and, it was rumored, sabotage by a diver who wanted America to stay where she was.[2]

The wreck today

America lies along a steep underwater cliff, with the wreckage sitting as deep as 85 feet to as shallow as only two feet to the surface,[5] and can be easily seen by visitors arriving in Washington Harbor.[2] The ship lies about 190 feet from Isle Royale. The hull is completely intact, as are the belowdeck cabins and the stern.[2] The forward part of the superstructure is missing due to the elements and salvage operations.[5][6] The effects of winter ice can be seen as far down as 30 feet below the surface, and alterations to the vessel from earlier salvage attempts are apparent.[3]

America is one of the most popular wrecks for diving in Isle Royale National Park,[4] with over 210 dives in 2009 out of 1062 dives made to wrecks in the park.[7] The pressure from the number of dives and the lake motion near the surface has caused the wreck to deteriorate.[2] Nearly all portable objects have been stripped from the wreck by souvenir-hunting divers.[3] The Isle Royale National Park has formed an informal partnership with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society (GLSPS) to preserve and monitor America.[6] In 1996, the GLSPS repaired one of the ship's walls, and they have reattached other pieces and otherwise worked to stabilize the ship.[6]

One of the Americas lifeboats was on display at the America dock in Snug Harbor in the Rock Harbor Channel on Isle Royal, but was washed into the lake in 2017.[8]

See also


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. "America Shipwreck". Superior Shipwrecks. Retrieved December 10, 2010.
  3. Daniel Lenihan; Toni Carrell; Thom Holden; C. Patrick Labadie; Larry Murphy; Ken Vrana (1987), Daniel Lenihan (ed.), Submerged Cultural Resources Study: Isle Royale National Park (PDF), Southwest Cultural Resources Center, pp. 127–152, 285–294
  4. Toni Carrell (September 1983), NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY - NOMINATION FORM: Shipwrecks of Isle Royale National Park Thematic Group
  5. "Scuba Diving". Isle Royale National Park, National Park Service. Retrieved December 10, 2010.
  6. "NPS Investigates Sunken Ships in Isle Royale NP". National Park Service. Retrieved December 14, 2010.
  7. Pete Sweger (2010), "A Diver's Experience" (PDF), The Greenstone 2010, p. 9, Archived from the original on 2011-08-06CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  8. Tammy Gmiter (July 9, 2018). "Mystery of missing lifeboat solved for 90th anniversary of Isle Royale shipwreck". MLive.

Further reading

  • Daniel Lenihan; Toni Carrell; Thom Holden; C. Patrick Labadie; Larry Murphy; Ken Vrana (1987), Daniel Lenihan (ed.), Submerged Cultural Resources Study: Isle Royale National Park (PDF), Southwest Cultural Resources Center, pp. 127–53, Archived from the original on 2010-03-01CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
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