Great Lakes Marine Collection-MPL/WMHS

Resources, Files and Databases

The Great Lakes Marine Historical Collections of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society and the Milwaukee Public Library owe their origin to Milwaukeean Herman G. Runge, who devoted 70 years to collecting and preserving information on all aspects of marine activities on the Great Lakes.
As the result of many volunteers and Library staff sorting and cataloging information, in addition to the acquisition and donation of other collections of marine history, the Society and the Library are able to offer these major research collections to the public:

Great Lakes Vessel Files

Known as Project Shipshape, this searchable database consists of information on over 11,000 Great Lakes vessels, ranging from the year 1679 to those sailing today. These files include information on names of ships, their captains, construction and design, collisions, sinkings, related newspaper articles and more. Over 50,000 photographs are in these files. The index to the files was made possible by matching grants from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.

Milwaukee Waterways

This collection on the Milwaukee Public Library website illustrates the role Lake Michigan and Milwaukee's rivers have played in the history of Milwaukee. The city was founded at the confluence of the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers where they low into Lake Michigan. Milwaukee's port opened in 1835. More than 50,000 photographs are in the collection, the majority of which come from the Port of Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Marine Historical Society and the Library have received a matching grant from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program to preserve these photographs and make about 1,000 photos available online. For more information, Contact WMHS.

Milwaukee Subject Files

This is an A to Z list of subjects related to the Great Lakes. Included are articles from newspapers and magazines, as well as pamphlets and government documents. While the index is searchable, the actual materials are available at the Central Milwaukee Public Library's Humanities Department. For more information, Contact WMHS.

John Wilterding Jr. Collection

The collection, primarily the histories of shipping fleets on the Great Lakes, was amassed by John Wilterding Jr. of Algoma, Wis., and James P. Kaysen of Cedarburg, Wis., and donated to the Society and the Library. The collection includes shipping company histories, photographs, newspaper articles, letters, books and more. To examine the collection, contact WMHS. See John Wilterding Jr. for more information.

US Customs Service Great Lakes Vessel Enrollment Records Database

This collection of microfilm records from the U.S. National Archives includes 58,000 enrollment records on 44,000 vessels from 1817 through 1900, and includes ship and owners' names, design detail, tonnage, home ports and more. To access this collection, please contact WMHS.

U.S. Coast Guard Documentation Records Database

This database of 3,500 vessels, updated monthly, has information on vessel characteristics, documentation and ownership between the 1980's and 1995. The database has information on Coast Guard documented vessels weighing five tons or more. Craft less than five tons are registered by individual states.

Canadian Great lakes Vessels Database

This collection has information on 7,900 vessels listed by the Canadian government from the 1800's to 1950's. For more information, contact WMHS.

Publications and Other Resources

Many books, directories, periodicals and other databases with detailed information on Great Lakes shipping, maritime resources as well as ocean-going vessels, are at the Library. For a partial list.

Other U.S. and Canadian Maritime Resources

Many maritime resources are available on the Internet, including websites specializing in contemporary commercial shipping, Great Lakes historical maritime information, maritime law, ecology, Great Lakes ports history, vessel data, ship masters, shop wrecks and divers, and genealogy.

Research Costs and Requesting Copies

Many of the Society's and Library's databases and indexes are free and available to the public through this website. For more information on research costs and document copies.