The SS William A Irvin is a freighter that was named after William A Irving The Vice President of U.S. Steel. She was a flagship of the company fleet from her launch in the depths of the depression in 1938 until 1975 and then was a general workhorse of the fleet until her retirement in 1978. The SS William A. Irvin is a well-maintained example of a classic laker, and a prime example of a straight decker, as she has no self-unloading system.


She was launched 21 November 1937 at the yards of the American Ship Building Company in Lorain, Ohio.  Her maiden voyage began 25 June 1938 after outfitting in Lorain. The William A. Irvin was the first of a four-vessel class, including Governor Miller, John Hulst, and Ralph H. Watson; each costing about $1.3 million US.  The vessel was christened by William Irvin’s wife, Gertrude Irvin.

The William A Irvin is one of few great lakes vessels to have retired but still holds a Great Lakes cargo record. Setting a record by unloading 13,856 tons of iron ore in two hours and 55 minutes using Hulett Unloaders. The ship is 610 feet, 9.75 inches overall. With a beam (width) of 60 feet, and a depth of 32 feet 6 inches. Fully loaded she weighs 14,000 tons compared to an average boat weighing in at around 28,000 tons. It has 3 cargo hold with 18 hatches each weighing 5 1/2 tons.

She wasn’t only used to carry ore, she also carried many company guests on behalf of U.S. Steel. Guests enjoyed themselves in one of four private luxury cabins and also had their own dining room and guest lounge. These guest areas are trimmed in oak paneling and walnut veneer with brass hand railings. All parts of the Irvin, from the woodwork in the guest quarters to the brass in the engine room, are in excellent condition.

Where is she Today?

The SS William A Irvin sat in a layup in West Duluth for eight years until the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center purchased her for $110,000 for an addition to their convention center along the Duluth waterfront. The Irvin was repainted and sealed up before heading to her final dock near the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Minnesota, as a museum ship. She was moved in September 2018 across the bay to Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin while environmental work was done in the home slip. On August 1, 2019, she was placed in a dry dock for painting and repairs to the portions of her hull normally below the waterline. She was towed back across the harbor on October 16, 2019, and returned to her home behind the Minnesota Slip Bridge