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June 7, 1902: Wreck of the Thomas Wilson

On this day in Duluth in 1902, the wooden steamer George G. Hadley collided with the all-steel whaleback steamer Thomas Wilson, costing nine lives and leaving the Wilson on the bottom of Lake Superior. The Wilson had just cleared the Duluth Ship Canal and entered Lake Superior. Approaching from the east with a load of coal, the Hadley received notice that Duluth’s coal docks were full, so her captain ordered the ship to turn and head for the Superior Entry, but he failed to see or notify the Wilson. The Wilson’s captain, upon seeing the Hadley begin to turn, quickly turned his own vessel to avoid her, but the Wilson ended up across the Hadley’s bow. The sides of the whaleback were crushed, and she sank in less than two minutes, with her engines still running and nine men still aboard. They all drowned. Eleven men were saved by the Hadley and the ferry steamer Annie L. Smith. The Hadley then beached south of the canal and was later salvaged. The Wilson still lies in lake Superior in about seventy feet of water off Eighth Avenue East. The United States Steamboat Inspection Service suspended both captains. The wreck site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. In 1973, the Wilson’s anchor was recovered by divers. It now rests on public display outside the Lake Superior Marine Museum in Canal Park.

A drawing of the Thomas Wilson by Ken Tunnel. (Image: Stewart Taylor Printing)