Herman G. Runge Devoted Nearly 70 Years
to Preserving Marine History

The following article is from the first issue of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society Newsletter (Volume 1, No. 1, October 1959, pages 3-4).

Herman G. Runge, 1874-1958

By Paul G. Sotirin

A nationally recognized authority on the Great Lakes, Herman Runge devoted almost 70 years of his life to collecting and preserving facts, figures and pictures relating to the history and development of lake shipping. Born in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, in 1874, Runge moved with his family to Milwaukee when he was six years old. When he was 14 he began the systematic collecting of ship information which culminated in one of the most important individual collections of its kind in the country.

In 1899 he became an apprenticed glove maker at the Elseworth Manufacturing Co. Following this, he worked as a clerk in a general store owned by a relative in Caledonia, in Racine county. Upon his return to Milwaukee, he obtained a position with Joys Brothers, ship chandlers, and later with Lindsay Brothers, implement dealers. In 1903, he began work for The Milwaukee Road as coal clerk, and for the next 30 years recorded all the coal used by the roadʼs locomotives coming into Milwaukee.

His retirement in 1933 permitted Runge to devote full time to his hobby of collecting Great Lakes marine lore. Each year he made an annual tour of all principal lake ports, visited with officials, captains and lake seamen. He spent hours going over old government records in Great Lakes marine custom houses, meticulously recording the information he found there, and transcribing it into his own records. He became a familiar sight on the lakes, and his attending to detail and fact soon began to attract interest.

His correspondence increased with the growth of his collection and included questions and information from government agencies, shipping lines, and societies and individuals engaged in Great Lakes history. Throughout his life Mr. Rungeʼs primary purpose was to collect facts and organize them into knowledge. Never interested in writing history himself, he preferred to collect the information and arrange it for use by those who did.

Gifted with an exceptional memory, he could instantly recall facts and figures on obscure ships. In 1937, he was made an honorary member of the Shipmastersʼ Association in Milwaukee.

Although not a seaman himself, Mr. Runge was influenced in his life of ships by an uncle August Winckler, who came to Wisconsin in 1847 after a life as an ocean sailor. His uncle became captain of the TWO BROTHERS, which sailed out of Milwaukee in the early 1880ʼs.

Herman Runge died on March 16, 1958, at the age of 83. His irreplaceable collection of marine lore was bequeathed to the Milwaukee Public Library.

The Runge Collection

The Herman Runge Collection represents one of the largest single collections of marine lore in the country, the result of 70 years of work. This collection of facts, pictures and books on Great Lakes ships and shipping is nationally recognized for its scope and content of information.

All records kept by Runge are in his own script. They consist of indexes, files, notes and ledger entries. The names of more than 85,000 ships and principal facts pertaining to them indicate the size and extent of the records kept by Runge. In addition, there are over 17,000 photographs of lake ships and an index file of 35,000 vessels. Each sheet in the index file contains the following information: name and registry number of the vessel, dimensions, tonnage, where built, by whom, changes of ownership, engine power and data, and a complete resume of the shipʼs history.

Printed materials include over 1,200 volumes of books plus magazines, newspapers and government publications. In addition to Rungeʼs personal papers, records and correspondence, the collection also includes books, files and magazines on railroads.

Other Marine History Collections Augment the Runge Material

Several other collections have been added to Mr. Rungeʼs original files. Additional notable donors include John Nelson, John P. Kane, Harry Bethune Jr., Edwin Wilson, Christopher G. Winscher and Lewis Buttles.

Rose Kramer's collection of 20,000 bulk carrier photos was donated in 1986.

Significant additions to the documentary materials have come from Kalmbach Publishing Company, Ralph Friedmann, H. E. Stephenson, Louis Quarles, Edmund Fitzgerald, Harry Thorpe Jr., Courtland Conlee, and the Milwaukee Harbor Commission.