The SS William A Irvin is now a floating museum, but during its heyday up until 1975, it was the proud flagship of the United States Steel Corporation. Built and launched in 1938, it was the first of four similar vessels in the fleet that were the workhorses of US Steel in the Great Lakes for decades. It was called “The Pride of the Silver Stackers” – referring to the color of the black banded smokestacks that were distinctive of the US Steel fleet.
The 610′ long William A Irvin could carry 13,000 tons of taconite from Minnesota to Michigan, and Ohio to Indiana. It was also a favorite ship of dignitaries and elected officials because of the luxury and comfort of her rich mahogany staterooms. These privileged folks often hitched a ride on this technologically advanced ship.
The SS William A Irvin was named after the fourth president of US Steel. The young William was in the 8th grade when his father passed away; and to help support his family he went to work in the mines. He never gave up and he worked his way up the ladder to eventually become the president. His family was the first to spend time on the ship when it was launched as a Great Lakes runner.
From Flagship to Floating Museum
The William A Irvin became obsolete in the 1970s when the new breed of 1,000 foot long ships was produced. They carried more cargo, moved faster and required smaller crews. It was retired in 1978 and was nearly forgotten in a Duluth shipyard for 8 years. The regal ship was saved from becoming scrap when the State Board bought it for $110,000 and spent another $210,000 to refurbish it! The ship was pushed by two tugboats to its present home in the canal area in 1986.
It is now an important part of Duluth’s Canal Park area as a unique landmark and as a floating museum; guided tours are given each summer. Many school groups and tourists come by to see how the ship once operated and how the sailors lived on board. They are shown the officer’s quarters, the galley, mechanical room and the underbelly of the ship. Going on a tour of this piece of maritime history can be enjoyed by all.
A large part of the intrigue of this floating museum is that it is transformed into the “Haunted Ship” every October. People come from far away to experience the frightening, ghoulish ship and its’ scary inhabitants. It never disappoints those who like to celebrate Halloween!
The SS William A Irvin is one of those tourist spots that very few cities can boast about. Duluth can. The ship, once the pride of the Great Lakes fleet, is now a place where family memories are made.