In 1958, the Great Lakes Engineering Works at River Rouge, Michigan, built the bulk freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald named for Mr. Edmund Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. who owned her.  Her 729’3” x 75’ x 39’ registered hull number was 301.  When launched June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on America’s Great Lakes.

Edmund Fitzgerald was chartered (leased) to Oglebay Norton’s Columbia Transportation Co. of Cleveland, Ohio;[i] owners of the largest U.S. flagged fleet of bulk carriers on the Great Lakes.  Columbia Transportation Division/Oglebay Norton’s SS Edmund Fitzgerald was transporting a load of taconite from Superior, Wisconsin, to Zug Island, Detroit, Michigan when she sank in a Lake Superior storm, November 10th, 1975 with the loss of 29 lives.  She was immortalized in Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, a song that hauntingly remains on your mind days after you have heard it.

Edmund Fitzgerald photo by Bob Campbell Courtesy The Great Lakes Ship Wreck Historical Society

The Wheeling link is well recognized regionally through the ‘Oglebay’ name, for others; please see (google) Wheeling’s “Oglebay Resort”, America’s model municipal park, Wheeling, West Virginia.

Oglebay Mansion Oglebay Park photo by John Bowman

Oglebay, Norton & Co. was founded May 1st, 1890[i],[ii] by Earl W. Oglebay an entrepreneur and visionary, and Cleveland banker, David Z. Norton.  Oglebay Norton’s “Columbia Transportation Co.” was formed in 1920 after acquiring eleven Great Lakes freighters.

Oglebay Norton Logo
Oglebay Norton Co. Columbia Transportation Division Ship Stack Funnel Emblem

Oglebay Norton’s Great Lakes freighters transported coal, lignite, and high-quality iron ore from Minnesota and Wisconsin’s iron mines through Lake Superior’s ports via the Great Lakes to Detroit, and to Cleveland serving Pittsburgh, Wheeling and Weirton iron and steel producers. Great Lakes freighters are nearly all designed and constructed the same.  The superstructure on the main deck fore, houses the bridge and deck crews quarters; the engine, boilers, and engineers’ crews are housed in the aft superstructure.  Hatches on the main deck amid ship permit the loading, unloading of cargo.  Some ships are self-unloaders and some have cranes.  These ships have double bottoms and sides. Their capacity is enormous, for instance the Edmund Fitzgerald’s capacity was 26,600 tons.

Great Lakes ships owned or chartered to Oglebay Norton’s Columbia Transportation Co.

A look at Oglebay Norton’s fleet of ships when in 1958 the Edmund Fitzgerald was designated their ‘Flagship’, and others, they later acquired.[i]  The 1953 Armco, a bulk freighter.  The 1943 Ashland, a bulk freighter.  The 1981 Columbia Star a self-unloader bulk freighter. The 1953 Courtney Burton, a bulk freighter originally named Ernest T. Weir[ii] when owned by National Steel Corp.  In 1978, she was renamed Courtney Burton after the grandson of Earl Oglebay.  She became the fleet ‘Flagship’ after the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  In 1978, Courtney Burton became president and CEO of Oglebay Norton Co.  A model of the Courtney Burton bulk freighter is displayed at “Oglebay’s Mansion Museum” at Wheeling’s “Oglebay Park”.

Office of Courtney Burton, Jr. Oglebay Mansion Museum and Model of the SS Courtney Burton Great Lakes Freighter photo by John Bowman

The 1908 Crispin Oglebay a self-unloader bulk freighter, named for Earl Oglebay’s son Crispin, second president and CEO of Oglebay Norton Co.  The 1958 Edmund Fitzgerald, a bulk freighter.  The 1979 Fred R. White, Jr., a bulk freighter.  The 1914 Huron, a self-unloader bulk freighter.  The 1943 J. Burton Ayers, a self-unloader bulk freighter.  The 1906 J. Clare Miller, a bulk freighter.  The 1906 J.R. Sensibar, a self-unloader bulk freighter.  The 1920 James Davidson a bulk freighter.  The 1925 Joseph H. Frantz, a self-unloader bulk freighter.  The 1943 Middletown, a bulk freighter. 

The 1903 O.S. McFarland, a crane ship named for the president of Valley Camp Coal Co., Triadelphia, West Virginia near Oglebay Park.   The 1953 Reserve, a bulk freighter.  The 1943 Frank Purnell bulk freighter that in 1974 was converted to a crane ship and self-unloader bulk freighter, and renamed Robert C. Norton in honor of the son of the Oglebay Norton Co.’s co-founder David Z. Norton.  The 1979 Thomas Wilson, a bulk freighter.  The 1908 W.C. Richardson, a crane ship.  The 1906 W.W. Holloway, a self-unloader bulk freighter.  The 1925 William A. Reiss, a bulk freighter.  The 1974 Wolverine, a bulk freighter.  The 1916 Wyandotte, a self-unloader bulk freighter.

Oglebay Norton WVA Co., an Oglebay Norton subsidiary headquartered at Ceredo, West Virginia once owned the 1950 Flying Saucer towboat and the 1973 Onco towboat.  These Ohio River towboats served the Armco Steel Corp. plant at Ashland, Kentucky.

Photo’s used

1 John Bowman’s photo of the Courtney Burton ship model at Oglebay’s Mansion Museum

John Bowman’s photo of the Oglebay Mansion

3 John Bowman’s photo of the Courtney Burton Office Display Oglebay Mansion Museum

4 Edmund Fitzgerald photo by Bob Campbell Courtesy, The Great Lakes Ship Wreck Historical Society

5 Oglebay Norton Logo courtesy World Vector Logo

6 Oglebay Norton Co. Columbia Transportation Div. Ship Stack Funnel Emblem


[i] Sources: Company-Histories.com Oglebay Norton Co. http://www.company-histories.com/Oglebay-Norton-Company-Company-History.html

[i] Source: Greenwood, John O., Namesakes Of The Lakes 1970, 1980, Freshwater Press, Inc. Cleveland, Ohio

[ii] Flores, Isaac M., An American Legacy The Oglebay Story 1982 Pg. 81

[ii] Ernest T. Weir was the founder of Weirton Steel Corp., Weirton, West Virginia and the chairman and CEO of National Steel Corp.

[i] Oglebay Norton Co. 1100 Superior Avenue Cleveland, Ohio

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