Built as Hull 301 at the Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge, Michigan, the Edmund Fitzgerald was the latest and greatest in Great Lakes shipbuilding technology when she was launched on June 7th, 1958. Owned by the Northwest Mutual Life Insurance Company and named for its newly appointed chairman, the "Big Fitz" was operated under charter from NMLIC by the Oglebay Norton Steamship Company's Columbia Transportation Division.
As Columbia's flagship, the 729-foot behemoth quickly became a favorite of ship watchers around the Lakes, largely in part due to her "DJ captain" Peter Pulcer. As the Fitz would pass through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, he would stand on deck with a bullhorn and give the tourists on the shore a commentary about the ship, and would often play lively music for his audience. The Fitzgerald usually hauled taconite ore pellets from Duluth, Two Harbors, and Silver Bay, Minnesota, to steel mills in ports across the Lakes, such as Toledo, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan. She set many tonnage records over her 17-year career, often beating her own. Her largest single-trip record was 27,402 tons of taconite pellets, which she set in 1969.
She was known by many names, including "Mighty Fitz," "Pride of the American Side," "Big Fitz," "Toledo Express," and, probably most ironically, "The Titanic of the Great Lakes." She met her untimely demise when she sank suddenly in a violent storm on Lake Superior on the evening of November 10th, 1975. All 29 of her crew were lost. She lies broken in two in 530 feet of water, about 17 miles from Whitefish Point Lighthouse. She remains the largest and best-known shipwreck on the Great Lakes and was immortalized in Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot's ballad "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
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