Wyandotte shipbuilding, the Fitzgerald brothers and the launch of the Little Fitz

Launch of the W.E. Fitzgerald at Wyandotte

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.

8 thoughts on “Wyandotte shipbuilding, the Fitzgerald brothers and the launch of the Little Fitz

  1. I sailed on W.E.Fitzgerald in 1944 at age 17. I started out as a coalpasser on February 7, 1944 and on June 19, 1944 received my license as a Fireman, Oiler & Water Tender.
    Captain Albert Le Banc was captain of ship. Offical ship no. was 203,561.
    The “Fitz” rammed into the Lake Street in Chicago and torn a hole in it.Still have pictures of it from a Chicago newspaper. Caption “Irresistable Force — Meets Immobile Object”
    I see in one of the postings on the internet that Capt.Le Blanc had a similar accident in Canada in the 1950s.He was a ramrod for moving the ship around fast.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have had the life preserver from the W.E Fitzgerald for the last 30 years and would like some additional information on the ship itself. Would anyone know where to best find this? Thanks, Jason.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have three ship “Trip Books” from 1906-1911 from the W E Fitzgerald. They are looking for a good home in a museum if amyone has a suggestion. My Great Grandfather, Capt. W. W, Callam was captain of the ship from what I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Jim: I just discovered your posting – and since it was put up in 2011, I am presuming that it they are already long gone… But if you still have the trip books, I would be very interested in acquiring them if at all possible??? I have been researching the vessels produced by the “Wyandotte Shipyards”, and its historical technological contributions to the shipbuilding industry of the Great Lakes my entire life. I have also been collecting anything I can find, regarding the yard itself or any of the ships it produced. If you wish, I would encourage you to look at the page about the Steffke Memorial Maritime Collection located on my website, if you are so inclined: http://www.Oldshipbuilder.com. It sounds like these ships trip books (or logbooks?) would be the perfect kind of materials that I am looking for, and would be a valuable addition to our archival collection. Please feel free to reach me at: Oldshipbuilder AT yahoo DOT com. Thank you and cordially, Keith M. Steffke


  4. My father, John Arendt worked on the Fitzgerald for over 20 years from the 40s to late 50s.
    Would appreciate any info from anyone that may have known him.


  5. My Dad, Cy Gerstner was on the W E Fitzgerald. I think 39 thru 45… Deckhand,Wheelsman and possible
    1st Mate…I would like any info who remembers. Also
    how can I get a List of Officer and Crew from that time frame.
    Reply…John Gerstner


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