Niagara (palace steamer)

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Name: Niagara
Operator: H.S. Miller[1]
Builder: Bidwell & Banta, Buffalo, NY
Completed: 1845
Fate: Caught fire and sunk on September 24, 1856
Status: Shipwreck
General characteristics
Class and type: Palace steamer - passengers and general freight
Tonnage: 1009 gross
Length: 230 ft.
Beam: 34 ft.
Height: 14 ft.[2]
NIAGARA (steamer)
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
Location: One mile off Belgium, Wisconsin
Built/Founded: 1846
MPS: Great Lakes Shipwreck Sites of Wisconsin MPS
Added to NRHP: December 16, 1996
NRHP Reference#: 96001456

The Niagara was a 245-foot (75 m) long sidewheel palace steamer launched in 1846. Like the others of its kind, it carried passengers and cargo around the North American Great Lakes. It was owned by the Collingwood Line.

On September 23, 1856, the Niagara left Sheboygan, Wisconsin headed for Port Washington, Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan, carrying 170 passengers[3] and a heavy load of cargo. Fire broke out in the area of the engine room at around 6:00 pm,[4] and the steam engines and the paddlewheels soon stopped. The steamer, which was 4–5 miles offshore, quickly became engulfed in flames and smoke. Efforts to use the fire hose were unsuccessful.[5] The passengers panicked while trying to board the lifeboats, capsizing all but one of them. Many jumped overboard into the water, which was reported to be too cold for anyone to survive in it.[6] Several ships in the area rushed to the scene and rescued most of the passengers.[7] The captain and most of the crew survived, but more than 60 on board perished, making it one of Wisconsin's deadliest transportation disasters. Among those lost was John B. Macy, a former member of the United States Congress.[8]

It was reported at the time that the fire was caused by an incendiary.[9] The Captain insisted the fire could not have started in the engine room, because it was fireproof, and blamed combustible cargo stored below.[10] It appears that the cause of the fire was never definitively established.

The wreck of the Niagara lies in 55 feet (17 m) of water one mile (1.6 km) off Belgium, Wisconsin.


  3. "Telegraphic Intelligence". The Charleston Mercury: p. 2. 1856-09-27. 
  4. "Particulars of the Burning of the Niagara". The Daily Ohio Statesman: p. 3. 1856-09-27. 
  5. "The Burning of the Steamer Niagara.". The Daily Ohio Statesman: p. 3. 1856-09-30. 
  6. "Dreadful Lake Disaster! 100 Lives Lost!". The Daily Ohio Statesman: p. 3. 1856-09-26. 
  7. "Burning of Steamer Niagara - One Hundred Lives Lost". The Sun (Baltimore, MD): p. 1. 1856-09-26. 
  8. "The Burning of the Streamer Niagara -- Further Particulars.". The Sun (Baltimore, MD): p. 1. 1856-09-30. 
  9. "The Burning of the Niagara -- Fifty or Sixty Lives Lost.". The Sun (Baltimore, MD): p. 1. 1856-09-27. 
  10. Maritime Trails account of the Niagara disaster
  • This article incorporates text from John B. Macy. See the edit history there for additional contributors.

de:Niagara (1846) fi:SS Niagara