History of the Lake Michigan Carferry, the S.S. Badger
Building of the S.S. BadgerSturgeon Bay, Wisconsin is the birthplace of the S.S. Badger, the last coal-fired steam powered passenger ship still sailing Lake Michigan. Built in 1951 by the Christy Corporation, the Badger was commissioned by the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad company at a cost of five million dollars. It was named in honor of the mascot at the University of Wisconsin and was the second ship launched in 1952, after the S.S. Spartan.
Christening and Maiden Voyage of the S.S. Badger
The Badger had one Michigan port--Ludington--but three Wisconsin ports--Manitowoc, Milwaukee, and Kewaunee. It left Milwaukee for the last time on October 24, 1980, ending service at that time, but under an MDOT subsidy, resumed its travel to Milwaukee in June of 1981.
Possible Demise of the CarferriesWith the railroad freight business dwindling, it looked as if the carferries were headed for the scrapyard. C&O dropped both the Milwaukee and Manitowoc runs, and even offered to give the boats away. Finally in 1983, in order to save the ships, Glen Bowden and a group of Ludington businessmen bought all three carferries--the Badger, Spartan and City of Midland--for one dollar each. Their new company, called the MWT (Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation), struggled to keep the ships going, but in 1990 the carferries were permanently docked, with the fear they would never sail again. It was a sad time for the area...where at one time, nine carferries sat in port.
The S.S. Badger is Saved
S.S. Badger FactsThe 410' S.S. Badger is the largest carferry to sail the Great Lakes, and can carry 620 passengers and 180 autos. It travels at roughly 18 mph to make the four-hour trip, with nearly 490 crossings per year. On board are 40 staterooms, outside deck, snack bar, video arcade, gift shop, TV and movie lounges, and children's playroom. In 1997, the Badger was officially named a Registered Wisconsin Historic Site, and in 2002, was named Ship of the Year by the Steamship Historical Society of America. In 2009, the Badger was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior. And in 2016, the S.S. Badger finally gained its status as a National Historic Landmark...almost five years after Lake Michigan Carferry's initial application.
It started with the Ann Arbor I in the early 1900s--and 13 carferries later--the S.S. Badger still sails from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin from mid-May to mid-October. It is as symbolic to Ludington as our lighthouses, and a beloved sight to watch.
Contact Lake Michigan Carferry
Ludington: 701 Maritime Drive, Ludington, Michigan 49431
Manitowoc: 900 South Lakeview Drive, Manitowoc, Wisconsin 54220