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  • Whale Back

Thomas Wilson, 1902 #

The Thomas Wilson was a riveted-steel, single propeller freight-carrying steamship, launched in 1892 from Lake Superior, WI. On June 7, 1902, the Wilson departed Duluth Harbor in clear weather; with the calm waters, the hatches were not yet ordered closed. Meanwhile, the 2,073-ton wooden steamer George Hadley was inbound. When a harbor tugboat directed the Hadley to divert to Superior harbor, the captain of the Hadley ordered an immediate turn to port, failing to notice the direction of the Wilson or to blow the required whistle signals. The captain of the Wilson, concerned about the movements of the Hadley but suspicious of running aground if he turned to port, ordered an immediate turn to starboard. The Hadley struck the Wilson just forward of the aft hatch and recoiled from the collision. The Wilson rolled over to port, then righted itself and began to sink by the bow. Within three minutes, the entire ship had sunk, drowning nine of the 20-man crew. As a result of this collision, more stringent rules were instituted in Duluth Harbor to prevent this from happening again.

The wreck of the Wilson is the best-known surviving example of the earliest whaleback steamships, a distinctive type of Great Lakes bulk freighter designed for the transportation of grain, iron ore, and lumber in the late 19th century.

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