On the Water

Ship Model, Schooner Ed McWilliams

As the United States expanded westward in the 1800s, the Great Lakes and inland rivers provided a route for transportation, commerce, and communication. Before railroads, waterways were a primary means of transporting bulk cargoes and heavy loads. Indeed, the first locomotive used in Chicago was shipped there by a Great Lakes schooner in 1837. Stretching from Buffalo, New York, to Duluth, Minnesota, and spotted along the way with port cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee, the Great Lakes brought thousands of people into the Midwest and in turn carried out the crops, lumber, and raw minerals produced in the region.

Schooners like the Ed McWilliams dominated the Great Lakes trade for much of the 19th century. Designed with a shallow hull for operating in small, inland harbors, Lakes schooners like the Ed McWilliams were also built with a long middle section to accommodate large loads of cargo.

Constructed in 1893 at West Bay City, Michigan, the Ed McWilliams was managed by John A. Francombe. Like most of his crew, Francombe immigrated to the United States in the middle of the century, he from England and the crew more likely from Scandinavia, Germany, or Ireland. The Ed McWilliams was one of thousands of vessels sailing on the Great Lakes in the 1800s, carrying cargoes of wheat, corn, iron ore, coal, and timber.

ID Number:
16 1/2 x 26 1/4 x 4 5/8 in.; 41.91 x 66.675 x 11.7475 cm
Gift of John W. Moroney