April 25, 1896: The whaleback Frank Rockefeller—later the S. S. Meteor—is launched in West Superior

On this day across the bay in 1896, Alexander McDougall’s American Barge Company launched the Frank Rockefeller, a 366-foot long, 45-foot wide whaleback ore carrier made of 1,500 tons of steel. It was designed to carry 4,000 tons of cargo—about 137,000 bushels of wheat. The launch was scheduled for 3 p.m., but it wasn’t until 3:45 that the vessel hit the water. A crowd, including many people from Duluth who took special streetcars, began forming at 2 that afternoon; at 2:30 the crowd was estimated at 5,000 strong. According to Superior historian Judith Liebaert, “During her career on the great lakes, the Rockefeller had at least six owners. In 1927 new owner Central Dredging of Chicago renamed her South Park; when Cleveland Tankers, Inc., in Ohio bought her in 1943, they rechristened her Meteor. With 73 years on the water, she was the longest-sailing whaleback, and today she survives as the only remaining example of these unique vessels. Cleveland Tankers offered to sell the disabled boat to the Superior, Wisconsin, in 1969; it took until 1972 before Superior became the Meteor’s owner. Read more about the history of the Rockefeller/Meteor here.

The Frank Rockefeller, which was renamed the South Park, which was then renamed the S. S. Meteor. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)

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