The Whalebacks and “600 Footers”
A unique stage in the development of Great Lakes shipping was the era of the whalebacks, 1888-1896. The invention of Captain Alexander McDougal, the whalebacks were flat-bottomed, rounded top, steel ships that were remarkably steady sailors. In less than a decade, 43 of this type of ship were built, most for use on the Great Lakes. Their era was short lived, however, because of the need to develop large deck hatches to unload cargoes quickly.
In 1906 the first modern Great Lakes freighter was born, the J. Pierpont Morgan. Built in South Chicago as an iron ore carrier, the Morgan was 605 feet in length. For the next 35 years the “600 footers” formed the backbone of the lake marine freighters.