For more than 40 years, the S.S. 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 dollars, 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 US 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 2 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 few Great Lakes vessels to be retired still holding a current Great Lakes cargo record. By 1978 when the ship entered final layup she had one of the smallest capacities due to the addition of the fleet's first 1000' ore boat.
The Irvin was not only 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 S.S. William A. Irvin.
So c'mon 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 William A. Irvin is docked along the waterfront of Lake Superior next to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and near the Aerial Lift Bridge.