SS W.H. Gilcher

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The SS W.H. Gilcher was a lake freighter that was constructed in 1890 by the Cleveland Shipbuilding Company for Joseph C. Gilchrist, the managing partner of a firm that was pioneering the industrialization of bulk carrier freight service on the Great Lakes. She had a length of 318 feet, a beam of 41 feet and drew 25 feet of water. She and her sister ship, the SS Western Reserve, were two of the first lake freighters to be constructed out of steel plate.[1] Her steel construction made it possible for the vessel to carry heavier loads of freight than her wooden rival steamships. According to the Glen Arbor Sun, the W.H. Gilcher was "the largest and most technologically advanced ship of its time."[2]

Only 17 months after she entered service in May 1891, the W.H. Gilcher vanished in fall 1892 with all hands. Traveling loaded from Buffalo to Milwaukee, she was last reported passing through the Straits of Mackinac. Sometime on the night of October 28-29, 1892 in Lake Michigan, the steel vessel and her cargo of coal disappeared. Her sister vessel, the Western Reserve, had broken in two on Lake Superior eight weeks earlier, in an incident attributed to the improper use of brittle steel contaminated with sulfur and phosphorus, and it is conjectured that the W.H. Gilcher met a similar fate somewhere near North Manitou Island.[1][2][3] All 18[1] or 22[2] men aboard the vessel were lost. As of 2018 the W.H. Gilcher is the largest unidentified shipwreck on Lake Michigan.


  1. ^ a b c "Gilcher, W.H." Great Lakes Vessel History. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Revisiting the mystery of the W.H. Gilcher". Glen Arbor Sun. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  3. ^ Boyer, Dwight (1968). Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes. New York City: Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. x, xiii.
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