Willis B Boyer

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The S.S. Willis B. Boyer is a lake freighter which served as a commercial vessel on the Great Lakes for much of the 20th Century, and is currently undergoing renovation as a museum ship in Toledo, Ohio.


On July 1st, 1911 just before noon, hundreds of onlookers stood along the shores, and aboard the vessels of an Ecorse, Michigan shipyard in the shadow of steel and supremacy. Whether attired in long, pastel-colored dresses, and broad brimmed flowery hats or the finest business suit of the day, women and men alike, had come to the Great Lakes Engineering Works to witness history. In the sultry heat of a summer afternoon, anticipation sat on the shoulders of the audience as did a ship, the COL. JAMES M. SCHOONMAKER, on her ways.

With the drop of a bottle, breaking of glass, and mist of cold champagne against warm steel, Gretchen V. Schoonmaker christened the vessel that had been named to honor her distinguished father, Colonel James M. Schoonmaker, Civil War hero, and railroad industry innovator. Sliding sideways down the ways, the steel leviathan smashed into the water with a mammoth splash officially becoming the “world’s largest bulk freighter” – the new “queen of the lakes”.

Aside from her enormity the SCHOONMAKER displayed unparalleled elegance. The showpiece of her owner, William P. Snyder, and flagship of her fleet, The Shenango Furnace Co., the SCHOONMAKER provided luxurious passenger accommodations which rivaled the “appointments of such magnificent transatlantic express steamships as the Lusitania and Olympic.”

On her maiden trip, the SCHOONMAKER carried 12,650 net tons of coal from Toledo, Ohio to Sheboygan, Wisconsin. This momentous voyage would mark the first of many historic trips. Maintaining her crown as “Queen of the Lakes” from July 1, 1911 to April 14, 1914, the SCHOONMAKER established multiple tonnage records for iron ore, coal, and rye cargoes.

Though the SCHOONMAKER’s reign as “Queen” was merely an instant in the timeless history of the Great Lakes shipping industry, she would remain the widest vessel on the lakes until 1927 and the most regal for the remainder of her career. When the SCHOONMAKER was chartered to the Wilson Marine Transit Co. in 1965 it appeared as if her career with the Shenango Furnace Co. had come to an end. Yet, the COL JAMES M. SCHOONMAKER would return to the Shenango Fleet in 1966 and sailed under their flag until 1969, when Shenango liquidated all maritime assets.

In 1969 the SCHOONMAKER was purchased by the Interlake Steamship Company and was immediately chartered to the Republic Steel Corporation, where she was renamed WILLIS B. BOYER to honor the companies President and CEO. In 1972, the BOYER was sold once again, to one of the oldest and most respected of lakes fleets: The Cleveland Cliffs Steamship Co.

As the WILLIS B. BOYER set sail under the Cleveland Cliffs flag in 1972, she began the final chapter of her active sailing career. A ship which was once, “The World’s Largest,” was soon dwarfed by the technologically advanced, self-unloading, 1,000 foot freighters of the 1970’s. Yet, highly revered by sailors and marine enthusiasts alike, the BOYER continued to sail further into history with each trip, as she would always embody the “Golden Age” of Great Lakes Shipping. In 1980 the BOYER was laid up at Toledo’s “Frog Pond” for the final time and faced an uncertain future.

In 1984, suffering a severe decline in tonnage commitments, the Cleveland Cliffs Steamship Co., over 100 years old, ceased operations. In 1986 the BOYER was “saved from the scrappers torches” when she was acquired by the City of Toledo for use as a museum ship. As if by destiny, this historic vessel is now moored at International Park, in the exact location where she loaded her first cargo in 1911! As the largest museum ship on the inland seas the BOYER attracts thousands of visitors yearly with her elegant enormity and romantic appeal.


The Willis B Boyer is 613 feet long overall. She has a beam of 64 feet and a depth of 34 feet. Her carrying capacity is 15,500 gross tons.

In the shadow of the Toledo skyline, moored alongside the rolling landscape of International Park, a splash of history and romance await you aboard the museum ship S.S. WILLIS B. BOYER.

Upon her launching in 1911, the S.S. WILLIS B. BOYER, then called the COL. JAMES M. SCHOONMAKER was proclaimed to be “The World’s Largest Bulk Freighter.” Built at the Great Lakes Engineering Works of Ecorse, Michigan the SCHOONMAKER was unsurpassed in both size and elegance. Maintaining her crown as “Queen of the Lakes” from July 1, 1911 to April 14, 1914, the SCHOONMAKER established multiple cargo records for iron ore, coal, and rye cargoes.

Retiring in 1980, and opened as a museum in 1987, the S.S. WILLIS B. BOYER serves as a floating testament to Toledo’s rich maritime heritage. Authentic restoration allows all who visit to witness the proud lifestyle experienced by centuries of Great Lakes sailors. All who visit can experience the “golden age” of Great Lakes shipping aboard the largest museum ship on the inland seas.


On December 17th, 2009 the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority Board of Directors authorized a Memorandum of Understanding with the Great Lakes Historical Society of Vermilion, OH for the creation of the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum at the Toledo Maritime Center. It is presently anticipated that the S.S. Willis B. Boyer will travel to the Toledo Shipyard for dry-docking/restoration during the fall of 2010 for a return to International Park the following spring. While the vessel will require a subsequent move to the Toledo Maritime Center in 2012 she will be restored to her original condition namesake and Shenango Furnace regalia for her Centennial Celebration and re-christening to be held on July 1st, 2011.

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