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  • Background

The Story of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Edmund Fitzgerald, May 1975 Photograph of the Edmund Fitzgerald taken in May 1975, St. Mary's River. Image courtesy of Bob Campbell, Grand Ledge, MI








Launch and specifics

The Edmund Fitzgerald was launched on June 7, 1958, from the Great Lakes Engineering Works at River Rouge, MI, a suburb on the south side of Detroit. She was owned by the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and named after the company’s newly-elected chairman of the board. The Oglebay-Norton Co. of Cleveland, OH chartered her under a long-term contract from Northwestern.

At the time of her launch, the Fitzgerald was the largest carrier on the Great Lakes, and remained so until 1971. She weighed 13,632 tons and measured 729 feet long by 75 feet wide. Fully loaded, the Fitzgerald was capable of carrying 27,500 tons, powered by a 7,500 horsepower steam turbine engine that could move her along at up to 20 mph. In 1964, the Edmund Fitzgerald became the first carrier to haul more than one million tons of iron ore pellets (taconite) through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, earning her the nicknames the "Big Fitz" and "The Pride of the American Flag". Sailors considered themselves privileged to serve aboard her.

Captain McSorley 

Captain Ernest McSorley--a veteran mariner with over 40 years experience--assumed command of the Fitzgerald at the start of the 1972 shipping season. He had commanded nine ships before joining the crew of the Fitzgerald. A quiet person, Captain McSorley was well respected by his contemporaries as a skillful Master and by his men, whom he treated as true professionals. Captain McSorley turned 62 in 1975 and was happily married. Although he had no children of his own, his wife Nellie was the mother of three children from a previous marriage.

Coast Guard Inspection

The Fitzgerald continued her fine record of service under the new Captain’s command into 1975. However, on October 31, 1975, the Coast Guard noted a problem during a routine inspection of the vessel at Toledo, OH. The inspectors found that a number of hatch covers that seal the cargo area would not close properly, meaning that water which washed on board the deck would be able to leak into the cargo hold.

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