Ship Builders in Milwaukee

Source: History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Western Historical Company; Chicago, 1881
beginning pg 467

It is impossible to recite a list of all the vessel enterprises that have been undertaken by Milwaukee men, or which have had Milwaukee as an important port of lading. The number of craft is legion, and the schemes innumerable. It is aimed herein to give a sketch of the present business of the port, as a supplement to the foregoing detailed history of the establishment of vessel interests and the construction of the present commodious harbor, including the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic improvements.

The smallest steam vessel in this district is the COMMODORE NUTT, 7.98 tons register. The smallest sail vessel registered is the MARY 11.76 tons. The largest schooner in this district is the A.B. MOORE, 1,099.37 tons register.

As a port of construction Milwaukee ranks high, because of the excellence of the shipwrights' labor, which has earned flattering commendations from "both salt and fresh water ship-masters. In 1873, 10,000 tons of shipping was launched at different ship-yards, but in the ensuing monetary panic, this industry in common with all others was depressed. On the recurrence of prosperity, an improvement was noted in the demand for sail-craft, and accordingly the keeps of several large vessels, destined for grain-carrying, were laid in 1880, having a tonnage of about 5,000.

Prior to 1860, the total number of vessels of all classes built in Milwaukee was not far from seventy. Since that date, the principal undertakings are as enumerated in the subsequent pages. Up to 1860 the largest vessel was the HANS CROCKER, which measured 496 tons, built by J.M. Jones, for W.W. Hibbard. Mr. Jones also constructed the first propeller in 1856, the ALLEGHANY for the American Transportation Company. She measured 593 tons.

See J.H. Blend in Family section
See Capt. William Jamison in Family section

The largest ship-yard in Milwaukee is that of Messrs. Wolf & Davidson, who occupy a tract of land comprising an area of eleven acres, situated at the confluence of the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic Rivers, and approached from the land by Washington and South Water streets. The facilities for executing work at the disposal of this firm are conceded to be the most complete on the whole chain of lakes, and in proof of this statement it is only necessary to mention that vessels from Chicago and Racine are frequently towed to this port for repairs. Labor is economized by the utilization of steam power. The firm owns one stationary dock and nine floating docks, which are in constant requisition. With such appliances at their command, a three thousand ton vessel could easily be handled, and, with the aid of a gigantic steam derrick the largest spars can be hoisted into position. Messrs. Wm. H. Wolf and Theodore Lawrence founded the business in 1858, and in 1863 sold out to Ellsworth & Davidson. In 1868, Mr. Ellsworth retired and was replaced by William H. Wolf, who purchased the interest. Since that date the business has gradually increased. The past year witnessed the completion of the barge PROGRESS, the most capacious vessel of her class now floating on the lakes, having a carrying capacity of 2,500 tons. On the first trip from Chicago to Buffalo, the PROGRESS was loaded with 80,200 bushels of corn, which were safely delivered in good condition. In 1879 the MINNESOTA, capacity 1,500 tons, was completed to the order of the Inter-Ocean Transportation Company. Since 1861 twenty-four heavy-draught sailing vessels, aggregating 182,000 tons, have been constructed. among the most prominent are mentioned the schooners, RESUMPTION, FORD RIVER, C.G. BREED, WAUKOMA, HANOVER, PENOKEE, ITASCA, GEORGE G. HOUGHTON, TYPO, LEM ELLSWORTH. Barks: TANNER, ANGUS SMITH, JOSEPH PAIGE, MARENGO, ALICE B. NORRIS, SAVELAND, MOONLIGHT and NELSON. The latter is accredited with being the finest craft of its class afloat. The MOONLIGHT is very speedy, and measures 1,100 tons, but, despite her bulk accomplished an unprecedented feat of making eleven round trips from Chicago to Buffalo, during the season of 1880. In addition to the foregoing, numerous tugs, steamers and scows have been built, and general repairs prosecuted. Although varying at different seasons, the average number of laborers employed throughout the year is about 200.

The Kirtland, Wolf & Davidson Wrecking Company is an offiliated (sic) concern with the foregoing company. The LEVIATHAN owned by this company, has been the most successful wrecking steamer on the lakes. Being under the skillful management of Capt. Kirtland, and having all the necessary appliances, such as steam pumps, derrick screws, all kinds of purchase blocks, hawsers, diving apparatus etc., she is ready, at all times to go to the relief of those acquiring aid.(Source: HISTORY OF MILWAUKEE 1881)

See. W.H. Wolf in marriage and family section
See. Thos. Davidson in marriage and family section
See Henry M. Lee in marriage and family section
See Joseph Wolter in marriage and family section
See Frederic G. Fahrman in marriage and family section
See Stephen R. Smith in marriage and family section
Capt. James Moody in marriage and family section


The Milwaukee Ship-yard Company was organized and chartered in 1874, with a working capital of $51,000, to continue the business of the private firm of Allan, McClellan & Co. The company's ship-yard and dry-docks ware situated on Vogel's Island and the Menomonee River. One hundred men are employed, and work to the amount of $100,000 is annually turned out. The three-and-after MYOSOTIS which was begun by the old firm, was completed by the present company. During the year 1879. the steam barge R.J. PETERS, capacity 400 M was built; and at this writing (January 1, 1881), another vessel of like proportions is in process of construction. A large amount of re-building and repairing is constantly being done. The company's dry-docks have a capacity of lifting a vessel of 1,500 tons. There are two sets of sectional docks. The officers are: President, John Fitzgerald; Secretary and Treasurer, A.M. Joys; master-mechanics, Louis Pahlow and Robert Allan. Mr. Pahlow is draughtsman and designer of vessel plans. These latter gentlemen are the only members of the original firm now interested in the company.

See Robert Allan in marriage and family section
See Louis Pahlow in marriage and family section
See Thomas Wilks in marriage and family section

The above organization was incorporated in 1872, and has a capital of $80,000. Its office is No 98 Ferry street, and officers as follows: Conrad Starke, Manager; Wm. H. Meyer, Secretary and Treasurer. These gentlemen with F.C. Starke comprise the company. They have seven tugs: The WELCOME, J.J. HAGERMAN, STARKE BROS, W.K. MUIR, J.B. MERRILL, DEXTER, and E.D. HOLTON. About forty men are employed. The company has, besides two barges, one of 250 tons burden and the other 240, which are used in the lumber trade. Connected with the line is also a complete wrecking outfit--diving suit, three stearn (sic) pumps (one 12 inch centrifugal and two 9 inch Wellington); also a large number of hawsers, wrecking blocks, etc. C.H. Starke came to Milwaukee from Hanover in 1853, and Conrad Starke in 1854. Wm. H. Meyer was born in Hanover, and came to the United States in 1867. F.C. Starke is a native of Milwaukee.(Source: HISTORY OF MILWAUKEE 1881)

The house of G.D. Norris & Co., ship-chandlers, sail-makers, awning and tent manufacturers, and dealers in naval stores, was established in 1843, at the corner of East Water and Erie streets. In 1852 they moved to the present location Nos. 19 and 21 Erie street. Upon the death of Mr. Norris, which occurred in 1869, the business was carried on by Mrs. Norris and A.M. Joys, from January 1, 1870 to January 1, 1871, when her son C.W., became a partner.(Source: HISTORY OF MILWAUKEE 1881)

See G.D. Norris in marriage and family section
See C.W. Norris in marriage and family section
See A.M. Joys in marriage and family section
See John Joys in marriage and family section
See John H. Steinkopf in marriage and family section

STARKE, SMITH & CO., office corner of South Water and Clinton streets, general contractors. In addition to their business of contractors, they have four dredges, which handle from 600 to 700 cubic yards of earth per each day; eight dump scows, fifteen flat scows, and the tug BUES are used in connection with these dredges. The are proprietors of a ship yard at their slip, where they do their own building and repairing. They also own and work five spile-drivers, carrying hammers whose weight range from 2000 to 3500 lbs. They have one Nesbeth steam hammer, and employ in this business from fifty to sixty men.(Source: HISTORY OF MILWAUKEE 1881)

See Jospeh Davidson in marriage and family section
See John H. Steinkopf in marriage and family section


The first direct clearance for an European port was that of the schooner DEAN RICHMOND, 377 tons, which sailed fromt he warehouse of H.J.F. Hill on July 19, 1856. She was commanded by Capt. Pierce, and safely delivered her cargo of 14,320 bushels of club wheat at Liverpool, on September 29, in the same year.

The consignor was C.J. Kershaw, of Montreal, who intended to ship the entire cargo to Chicago. He only obtained 5,000 bushels of club wheat at that place, the balance, 9,000 bushels of Winter wheat, being supplied by Milwaukee. The departure of the Dean Richmond was signalled by great rejoicing among the capitalists. The event was considered the opening of a new era in the history of the port, and great expectations where induldged in regarding the future of direct trade with Europe. At 4 P.M. the tug TIFT made fast to the schooner which was decked from stem to taffrail with multitudinous flags. From the fore floated the Union Jack, and the mainmast was graced with the vessel's burgee, while from the bow and stern the American colors saucily saluted the breeze. As the RICHMOND moved off from her dock a band of music engaged for the occasion, struck up "God Save the Queen," in deference to Mr. Kershaw's nativity and the numerous wealthy merchants on board cheered lustily and drank success to teh adventurous voyagers in copius bumpers of champagne. On gaining an offing the schooner was cast adrift and entered fairly upon her long journey to the inspiriting strains of "Yankee Doodle," and the commingled congratulations of her guests, who returned to Milwaukee on the TIFT, leaving the DEAN RICHMOND to draw away at a five knot pace. At the time of her departure the RICHMOND was only two months old, having been built in Cleveland. This was her second trip, Between the years 1855 and 1859 Milwaukee enterprise prompted J. Thorsen and Ditmar Fishbeck to unite in a venture to the European markets. The schooner M.S. SCOTT, Capt. Nelson Blend, tonnage 500, was chartered and freighted with a miscellaneous assortment of lumber comprising of black walnut cants, cherry crotches, oak and birds-eye maple timber, and carriages in the rough. The M.S. SCOTT, was dispatched from Milwaukee in May, 1859, destined for Hamburg, Germany, via the St. Lawrence River. The voyage occupied the usual time, and from a financial standpoint, was moderately successful. A return cargo was obtained in Newfoundland, where a cargo of oil was shipped for Boston. Arriving at the latter port Capt. Blend resigned the command and was replaced by Capt. Thomas Lord, of Milwaukee. For eighteen months the M.S. SCOTT was engaged in the costing and West India trade. In 1861, while sailing in the vicinity of Franklin, La., she was attacked by Confederates, and only escaped capture by the seamanship of Capt. Lord, who evaded his pursuers and eventually reached New York in safety. There a cargo of salt and general merchandise was embarked and the M.S. SCOTT bid farewell to salt water, returning to this city in the Fall of 1861. The first direct importation of European goods was made by the "M.S. Scott," and transferred overland from Boston by railroads. About the same period the "J.B. Martin," "Geo. D. Dousman,""Dersler," and in later years the "D.D. Holtby,""G.C. Trumpff," and "Juniata Patten," were chartered for British Ports.