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April 30, 1871: The tug Frank C. Fero becomes the first vessel to pass through the Duluth Ship Canal

On this day in Duluth in 1871, the steamer ferry-tug Frank C. Fero, piloted by Captain George W. Sherwood, became the first vessel to navigate the Duluth Ship Canal—which was not even a day old and just five feet deep and twenty wide. There was still a lot of work to do before larger vessels could pass through, but the Fero had made a point—and entered into one of Duluth’s great creation myths: the legend of the digging of the Duluth Ship Canal. The story goes that Duluth received a telegram on a Friday afternoon, stating that a government official was on his way to Duluth to deliver an injunction filed by the city of Superior, Wisconsin, to cease and desist construction of the canal, which Duluth had not yet even begun to dig. The mayor then called for every able-bodied citizen to head to the canal site, and in two days the community dug the entire canal by hand. When the government courier arrived on the following Monday, he was just in time to see the Fero steam through the canal, so he tore up the injunction and that was the end of that. There are many variations of the tale, some involving dynamite, but they are not true. You can read all of the legends surrounding the digging of the Duluth Ship Canal—and find out who started the myth—here.

A sketch of George Sherwood c. 1895. (Image: Zenith City Press)