History

The tale of the William A. Irvin

For more than 40 years, the William A. Irvin carried iron ore and coal to Great Lakes ports, often crashing through ferocious storms to reach her destinations. Yet the enormous vessel represents much more than impressive power.

As the proud flagship of U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Fleet, she provided comfort and elegance to dignitaries and guests who traveled the Lakes with her. The Irvin was launched November 21, 1937, at the yards of the American Ship Building Company in Lorain, Ohio. At a cost of $1.3 million, the Irvin was the first of four vessels in her class. Her maiden voyage began June 25, 1938 after outfitting in Lorain. The boat was christened by William Irvin’s wife, Gertrude, and went to work hauling bulk materials from the tip of Lake Superior (Two Harbors and Duluth, Minnesota) down to U.S. Steel’s mills on Lake Michigan and Lake Erie (Lorain and Conneut, Ohio; Gary, Indiana).

The Irvin set a record by unloading 13,856 tons of iron ore in two hours and 55 minutes using Hulett Unloaders. That record remains unbroken today and is unlikely to be broken, because all ships today use automatic self-unloaders in the bottom of their cargo holds. The Irvin is one of a few Great Lakes vessels to be retired still holding a current Great Lakes cargo record. The ship entered final layup in 1978 with one of the smallest capacities due to the addition of the fleet’s first 1000 ft. ore boat.

The Irvin wasn’t just a workhorse. She also carried many company guests on behalf of U.S. Steel. Guests enjoyed themselves in one of four private luxury cabins and also had their own dining room and guest lounge. These guest areas are trimmed in oak paneling and walnut veneer with brass hand railings. All parts of the Irvin, from the woodwork in the guest quarters to the brass in the engine room, are intact and in excellent condition.

This rare combination of maritime force and grace has been experienced by very few. Now, you can experience life on the lakes by touring the Irvin.

Come aboard! Whether you’re interested in a 2,000 horsepower steam turbine engine or delicate antique fixtures, you’ll find them both in shipshape. The Irvin is docked along the waterfront of Lake Superior next to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and near the Aerial Lift Bridge.

The Irvin is open daily for tours from May through September. Haunted ship tours begin in early October. Visit duluthhauntedship.com for details.


Quick facts about the Irvin

  • Built in 1938 at the American Ship Building Company in Lorain, Ohio
  • Owned and sailed by U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes fleet for 40 years
  • 610′ 9.75″ overall with a beam (width) of 60 feet and depth of 32′ 6″
  • Retired in 1978 because she was too small
  • 18 hatches 38′ x 11′
  • Three cargo holds
  • Each hatch cover weighs 5 ½ tons
  • Fully loaded weighs 14,000 tons compared to an average boat today at 28,000 tons
  • Third boat to have steam turbine engine providing power to prop shaft through reduction gear
  • Automatic coal conveying system that carried coal from bunker to fireboxes
  • Burned 2,400 lbs. coal per hour
  • Steam reaches pressure of 430 lbs. per square inch
  • 2,000 horsepower
  • Cast steel anchors – two 8,000 lb. bow, one 6,000 lb. stern
  • Nine officers, 32 crew members.