The Great Lakes were America’s first superhighway before railroad lines and roads arrived in the late nineteenth century. This book tells the story of the ships and boats on which the United States, barely decades old, moved to the country’s middle and beyond, established a robust industrial base, and became a world power, despite enduring a bloody Civil War. The “five sisters,” as the Great Lakes came to be called, would connect America’s far-reaching regions in the century ahead, carrying streams of Irish, German, and Scandinavian settlers to new lives, as the young nation expanded west. Initially, schooner fleets delivered passengers and goods to settlements along the lakes, including Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay, and returned east with grain, lumber, and iron ore.
Steam-driven vessels, including the lavish “palace” passenger steamers, followed, along with those specially designed to carry coal, grain, and iron ore. The era also produced a flourishing shipbuilding industry and saw recreational boating advance. In text and photographs, this book tells the story of a bygone era, of mariners and Mackinaw Boats, schooners and steamboats, all helping to advance the young nation westward.