Wyandotte shipbuilding, the Fitzgerald brothers and the launch of the Little Fitz
November 14, 2007
Launch of the S.S. W.E. Fitzgerald at Wyandotte, Detroit Publishing Co.
I have no idea how I ended up at this photo (and why I suddenly feel like Paul Harvey), but here’s what I’ve learned through Boatnerd.com and a forum with a brief article from Boatnerd by Dick Wiklund about the “Little Fitz.”
William and Julia Fitzgerald of Marine City, Michigan sired six sons. The sons were fascinated by the wooden sailing ships and early steamboats on the St. Clair River, and all six became captains of Great Lakes ships. The youngest of these was John Fitzgerald, who started a shipyard in Milwaukee. His son, William E. Fitzgerald, took over the business in the 1890s but died just a few years later. William’s close friend, Captain Dennis Sullivan, built and christened the W.E. Fitzgerald in Wyandotte in his honor in 1906.
The Wyandotte Historical Museum’s history page says that Wyandotte’s shipbuilding industry was started by Eber B. Ward:
Wyandotte produced over 200 ships, varying from small tugs to large steamers and passenger ferries. Under the name of the American Shipbuilding Company the Wyandotte yards flourished. Hulls were constructed in Wyandotte and were taken up the Detroit River to Detroit, Michigan were they were outfitted. Smaller companies such as the E.H.Doyle Hoop & Stave Works(1889)who provided the city’s first electric power, the Regeant Stove Company, the McCord Corp. and the Beals & Selkirk Trunk Company soon made Wyandotte a famous industrial town.
In 1953, the WE Fitzgerald became known as the Little Fitz when the massive freighter named after William’s son was launched. His name, of course, was Edmund Fitzgerald.
The Library of Congress index of Wyandotte photos is heavy ships & shipyards (you may need to go to this page and search for “Wyandotte”). If you’re in the mood for a ton of Great Lakes freighter information (and a little music and “Laker” cooking), head over to Absolute Michigan’s word of the week: Freighter.