Wednesday, July 24, 2019

1958-1975 Edmund Fitzgerald and 1959 Steel Strike

The Arthur M. Anderson sailed with her in the storm of Nov. 10, 1975. But she disappeared so fast that having a "'buddy ship" did not help.

Wisconsin Marine Historical Society posted eight images with the comment:
Sixty years ago today (7/21/59), the EDMUND FITZGERALD steamed into Milwaukee’s inner harbor. It was the only time in her 17-year career that the Mighty FITZ would visit her port of registry. A strike had halted steel production nationwide and idled the ore boats. Columbia Transportation, which managed the FITZGERALD, arranged for space at Milwaukee where she could ride out the strike. She remained in Milwaukee for three months as the strike dragged on. The FITZGERALD, along with her crew of 29, was lost during a storm on Lake Superior in November 1975.
Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan, built the EDMUND FITZGERALD for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, which had its headquarters in Milwaukee. At 729 feet long with a 75-foot beam, she was the largest vessel on the Lakes when launched June 7, 1958. [The 1896 Poe Lock was just 800'x80'x29.5' until it was rebuilt in 1968 as 1200'x110'x32'] More than 10,000 people lined the Detroit River to watch her slide sideways into the water. But things did not go smoothly. It took three tries to break the champagne bottle. Then there was a half-hour delay as workers struggled to release keel blocks. Finally, the newborn giant crashed hard into a pier on the opposite side of the launching basin after sliding down the ways. All that was forgotten by September 24 when the FITZGERALD departed Silver Bay, Minnesota, with her first cargo: 20,000 tons of taconite pellets.
Edmund Fitzgerald joined Northwestern Mutual in 1932 as a part-time employee. He ascended to the presidency in 1947 and was elected chairman of the board in 1958. During his tenure, the company added lake boats to its investment portfolio. While the company owned the boat named for its chairman, it entered into a 25-year agreement with Oglebay Norton’s Columbia Transportation Division to manage the vessel.
As the FITZGERALD began its first full season hauling iron ore, trouble was brewing in the steel industry. American steel companies were reporting healthy profits and the workers wanted to share in the prosperity. After watching autoworkers win hefty pay increases and lucrative benefits, steelworkers became more aggressive. With the steel contract set to expire on July 1, 1959, workers demanded a large pay increase and substantially better benefits. The steel industry, concerned with foreign competition, sought to control its labor costs. With no new contract, workers walked out on July 15. Nearly every steel mill in the country was shut down.
Vessel managers were soon scrambling to find space for boats, many loaded with ore, which were no longer needed. “An armada of ore ships” quickly replaced naval vessels in Milwaukee’s harbor. 15 navy ships had taken part in Operation Inland Seas, Milwaukee’s celebration marking the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. U.S. Steel, Columbia Transport, and Wilson Marine Transit all sent idled ore carriers to Milwaukee.
The FITZGERALD arrived on July 21, 1959. Meeting at the harbor that day were four Edmund Fitzgeralds. First, there was Edmund Fitzgerald, chairman of Northwestern Mutual. Next was his son, Edmund B. Then came his three-year old grandson, Edmund G. And finally, there was the baby: a 729-foot lake boat named after the senior Fitzgerald.
Since 1881 agents for Northwestern Mutual have gathered in Milwaukee each year. This event is designed to bring agents together with employees from headquarters. The 79th annual convention was a three-day affair from July 20 through July 22, 1959. On the final day, agents and employees were allowed to tour the company’s mammoth ore carrier.
The following day, Thursday, July 23, the FITZGERALD was opened for public inspection from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. Even though access to Jones Island was limited “by street, sewer and other construction projects,” and despite heavy rain that afternoon, more than 11,500 Milwaukeeans toured the Mighty FITZ. She was opened to the public again on Friday because of strong interest.
Unfortunately, visitors were not allowed in the pilothouse “because of the delicate, expensive equipment installed there.” But they did get to see the two staterooms just below the bridge for guests, carried by invitation only, and the connecting lounge “with a window wall looking over the cargo hatches to the stern.”
After the excitement of her first three days in Milwaukee, the FITZGERALD’s port of registry, things slowed down. She remained tied up at Jones Island waiting for an end to the steel strike. However, there would be no quick resolution.
Claiming that national security was compromised, President Eisenhower requested an injunction ordering strikers back to work for 80 days under provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. When the injunction was granted on October 21, union officials immediately sought to have the Act declared unconstitutional.
On October 26, Kaiser Steel broke ranks and reached an independent settlement. Three days later, anticipating an end to the nationwide strike, the FITZGERALD left Milwaukee and headed for the ore docks.
On November 7, the Supreme Court upheld Taft-Hartley. After almost four months, steel mills slowly began coming back to life. So too did the ore boats. The two sides finally reached an agreement ending the strike in January 1960. Workers received a minimal pay increase.
Although it was over, the strike would have a lasting impact on the steel industry. Forced to find alternatives during the shutdown, American manufacturers learned to work with foreign steel. In many cases they found it to be less expensive than American steel even after factoring in transportation costs.
In 1957, the United States exported 5.3 million tons of steel while importing only 1.1 million tons. Two years later, imported steel exceeded exports by 2.7 million tons. This dramatic change can be attributed to the steel strike. Unfortunately, the United States continued importing more steel than it exported in the following years.
Never again would the EDMUND FITZGERALD visit her homeport of Milwaukee. For 17 years she hauled iron ore, often from the chutes at Superior, Wisconsin, to the unloaders at Toledo, Ohio. Overwhelmed by a storm on Lake Superior, the Mighty FITZ and her 29-man crew perished November 10, 1975.
Domestic steel continued its gradual decline. American steelmakers accounted for almost 47 percent of steel produced worldwide in 1950. Ten years later, that percentage had dropped to just under 26. Today, the United States produces less than six percent of the world’s steel.
Port Milwaukee benefits from imported steel. Coil, structural, and plate steel arrives primarily from Europe. 179,000 metric tons of steel passed through the port in 2017. This represented about 9.3 percent of the 1.93 million metric tons handled at Milwaukee’s public docks that year.
In March 2018, President Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on imported steel. According to the Department of Commerce, steel imports nationwide decreased eleven percent. Port Milwaukee has not disclosed its steel tonnage for 2018. So far in 2019, ten (unofficial) vessels have delivered European steel.
Edmund Fitzgerald had a Lakes connection: his father was president of Milwaukee Dry Dock, and his grandfather was a ship captain. Mr. Fitzgerald was also instrumental in organizing the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society, and served as its first president.
Recognizing the importance of the St. Lawrence Seaway to the city, Milwaukee hosted a weeklong celebration to mark its opening. Called Operation Inland Seas, the program started June 26, 1959, and included an amphibious landing by the U.S. Navy on the city’s lakefront. Edmund Fitzgerald was chairman of the St. Lawrence Seaway Celebration Committee.
In 2019 Northwestern Mutual is hosting its 139th annual meeting of agents. The five-day affair from July 20 through July 24 will bring more than 10,000 people from across the country to Milwaukee.
PHOTO CREDITS: Unless otherwise noted, Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.
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safe_image for On Nov. 10, 1975 the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in the big lake Gitche Gumee
PHOTO CREDIT: Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society and Milwaukee Public Library.

David Brown posted
Edmund Firzgerald. I believe I took this photo in Duluth. We were loading taconite just down from her.
Shawn Keith Do you know when you took the photo?
David Brown Shawn Keith I believe August 1975.
Kent Rengo Nice! Definitely Duluth MN. At the DM&IR ore docks.
David Brown Kent Rengo thanks for the confirmation... Memories fade.
Phillip Wolbert nice lighting. Even have the draft gauge deployed.
Nick Gurr She looks fatigued even then.
John Chidester Nick Gurr looks fatigued ????
Nick Gurr John Chidester It is known as fact they often overloaded that vessel many times beyond the engineering limits, and a number of major structural repairs had been done prior to the tragic sinking to keep her afloat making money.. It was not fit for that storm with that load and long time metal fatigue. That is the view of many in the know at the time.
John Chidester Nick Gurr so happy to hear all the “facts” from all the “experts”. Thanks for sharing.
Bob Haworth She looks pretty usual to me. Typical boat. I'd like to see documentation showing that she had been overloaded several times.
Brian Bernard The Fitzgerald wasn't "overloaded" than any other ship of that era, if by overloaded you mean changes to her loadline assignment. But all the ships built in the 1950s had changes to their loadlines. And that change was based on data gathered by hull stress gauges and even wave buoys launched from the Edward L. Ryerson in the mid to late 1960s. Several other vessels, Shenango II, Seaway Queen, Ontario Power were similarly instrumented in the 1960s as part of a study done by the USCG, Transport Canada, ABS and SNAME.
Nick Gurr True, but her hull had been serviced due to previous fatigue damage and stress damage. She should not have sunk knowing what we know now. There are still lots of theories unproven .
John Chidester Nick Gurr every vessel goes through that type of service. It’s a normal cycle for them. These ships work hard year in and year out. They wear.

Eric Pieper posted an image
[Evidently the Wisconsin Maritime Museum has a diorama of how it settled on the bottom of the lake.]

Luke Gilmore posted two photos with the comment: "I was digitizing some photos (in slide form) that my grandfather took in 1960 and found a couple pics of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
Stephanie Kay Suranyi Sue Gilmore November 10, 1975.
Dave Hamel Stephanie Kay Suranyi I remember that day like it was yesterday. Living on an island in Lake Erie it was the windiest day I could remember. The winds blew so hard that the water level of the lake dropped dramatically and we had alot more beach front real estate that day. I will never forget it. I was 13 at the time.
[A storm that effected both Superior and Erie would be a monster!]]
Rachel Lamming Hillary Corjos wow these are gems. There are very few photos of the Fitz that aren't already in circulation.

Mike Arlan shared


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(new windowWhen launched in 1958 it was the largest ship to sail on the Great Lakes. (I quite watching at 1:30.)

More about the strike:
Andrew Haenisch posted
Milwaukee Harbor Monday July 2, 1956
"Twelve ore boats that are expected to sit out the steel strike in the Kinnickinnic mooring basin at Jones Island were anchored outside of Milwaukee harbor Monday morning. The second vessel to enter the harbor was the Norman B. Ream (left). It eased by the Ravnefjell, a Norwegian cargo ship. Eight other ore boats are expected to come to the harbor to await the end of the steel strike. All boats that arrived Monday where loaded".
  • Journal Staff
  • Original press photo

A video of the ship unloading in Toledo, OH, circa 1963

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