The freighter SS Henry B. Smith

The freighter SS Henry B. Smith
A glimpse inside the freighter located in May at the bottom of Lake Superior.  Photo Courtesy: Associated Press

A glimpse inside the freighter located in May at the bottom of Lake Superior. Photo Courtesy: Associated Press

The SS Henry B. Smith was a steel-hulled, propeller-driven lake freighter built in 1906 by the American Ship Building Company at Lorain, Ohio. 

The Henry B. Smith was 525 feet in length, 55 feet in width and 31 feet in height. The gross tonnage for the vessel was 6,631, and the net tonnage was 5,229. The engine of the Henry B. Smith was a triple-expansion type.

The ship foundered and was lost on November 10, 1913, in Lake Superior during the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 near Marquette.  She was carrying a load of iron ore at the time of her sinking. There were no survivors from the crew of 25.

According to published reports, the Smith arrived at Marquette on November 6th to take on iron ore. Over the next two days a southwest gale swept over Lake Superior, dropping the temperature to 24 degrees. The cold weather caused the ore to freeze inside the hopper cars, requiring men to knock them loose by hand. This resulted in a loading delay for the Smith. 


The SS Henry B. Smith. Photo Courtesy: Associated Press.

Around 5:00 p.m. on November 9, the Smith loaded its last car of ore. Since the gale seemed to be in a brief lull, the big freighter immediately backed away from the dock and began to leave. As soon as the Smith left Marquette Harbor, the fierce wind returned and the storm’s lull ended. Witnesses on shore noted that the deckhands were frantically trying to close the Smith’s hatches. The freighter had a total of 32 hatches; each hatch required individual attention with locking bars, clamps, and tackle. It was a couple hours work for even the most skilled crew. And so it was that Captain James Owen was piloting the Henry B. Smith into one of the worse storms in memory with unsecured hatches.

After about twenty minutes, the full force of the gale hit the Smith as huge waves crashed over her deck, drenching the hapless deckhands who were still struggling to close the hatches. Instead of turning to starboard on the usual course for the Soo, the Smith hauled to port, rolling greatly as she did so. Witnesses on shore concluded that Owen had realized his error and was heading for shelter behind Keweenaw Point to the north. With the encroaching darkness and thick snow squalls, the Smith was then lost from view.


Two days after the storm blew itself out, the beaches along Chocolay Bay, Shot Point, and Laughing Fish Point were littered with debris from the Smith. The wreckage was found high up on the beach, indicating it came ashore at the height of the storm.

The body of the second cook, H.R. Haskin, was found floating about fifty miles west of Whitefish Point some days later. Only one other body of the Smith’s crew was ever recovered; the skeleton of third engineer John Gallagher was found on Parisian Island in the spring of 1914. A note in a bottle, allegedly from the Smith, was found in June 1914. In it, the author claimed the ship had broken in two 12 miles east of Marquette. After a long debate, the boat’s owners decided the note was a phony; it was dated 12 November, when the Smith sank either on the 9th or the early morning hours of the 10th.

The wreck was most likely located in May 2013. If it proves to be Henry B. Smith, the ship lies in 535 feet of water off of Marquette.

Read more about the SS Henry B. Smith:

“Went Missing: The Henry B. SmithFredrick StonehouseMarquette Shipwrecks, Avery Color Studios 1977. OCLC 3587143

Andrew Krueger, “100 years after ore boat disappeared in Lake Superior storm, searchers locate wreck,” Duluth Tribune, 8 June 2013.

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