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First steam ships on the Great Lakes

The Frontenac was the first steamer to be launched on the Great Lakes, on 7 September 1816 at Ernestown, Ontario. However, the Ontario, launched in the spring of 1817 at Sacketts Harbor, New York, was the first to formally enter active service on 16 April 1817, while the Frontenac made her first commercial voyage to the head of the lake on 5 June 1817 (in fact, her engines had been greatly delayed in their arrival from England, and she only made her maiden trip under her own power, across Kingston Harbour, on 23 May 1817.

The first steamboat on the upper Great Lakes was the Walk-In-The-Water, built 1818 on Lake Erie. Like both the Frontenac and the Ontario, she was a paddle wheeler.

The first screw propeller on the Great Lakes was the Vandalia, built 1842.

 

More details (by Walter Lewis) on the Frontenac are available on the pages of the Maritime History of the Great Lakes; and for the Ontario we have reproduced, with permission, Richard Palmer's "First Steamer on the Great Lakes" article, published in 1988 in the Inland Seas.

 

Revised: 31 March 2012