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5 Interesting Facts About the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

This post is part of our Weekend Notes series.

38 years ago this week, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald – a steel bulk freighter – sank on Lake Superior, and 29 men perished in the wreck. The tragedy led to a series of changes in how the industry shipped iron ore between ports on the Great Lakes.

Below, we take a look at five little known facts about the ship and the impact she had on the steel industry.

The Bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald was recovered from the wreck and restored before finding a home at Michigan State’s Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. 

When the iron bell was raised from the water after nearly 30 years at the bottom of Lake Superior, it showed significant damage, including heavy rusting and corrosion. Dental pics and toothbrushes were used to delicately remove the first layer of rust, after which researchers employed to a variety of techniques to return the bell to its former glory. Today, the bell is rung every year on November 10th as a reminder of the 29 crewman who lost their lives onboard.

The ship was the largest ship on the Lakes during its maiden voyage. 

Measuring in at 729 feet long and 75 feet wide, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald launched in June, 1958. Built by Great Lakes Engineering Works, the ship broke its own seasonal haul records between ports in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. When it sank, it was less than 100 feet shorter than the Titanic.

The Edmund Fitzgerald weighed over 13,000 tons. 

While the Fitz weighed only 13,632 tons, she carried over 26,000 tons of iron ore pellets on her final voyage. On that trip, she departed from the Burlington Northern Railroad in Superior, Wisconsin, and was scheduled to end her voyage in Detroit, Michigan. It’s highly disputed that the reason the ship went down was due to her incredibly heavy load in the wake of a nasty storm.

In 17 years, the ship made 748 trips and carried over 1.1 million tons of cargo each year. 

On average, over 25,000 tons of cargo were transported by the Fitz per trip. The ship is thought to have traveled on all five of the Great Lakes – an impressive feat as the total shoreline of the Great Lakes is a staggering 8,300 miles long.

The ship carried two lifeboats onboard that fit up to 50 people.

However, both were found destroyed in the aftermath. Perhaps this is one reason that after the demise of the Fitz, mandatory survival suits and positioning systems were put on all freighters. In addition, shipping regulations were heightened in the wake of the disaster, and more attention was paid to the safety of traveling crews.

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