The S.S. BADGER, photo submitted in 1997.
Click above images to enlarge

700William Street, Ludington - Mason County
Property Type ship
Historic Use TRANSPORTATION/rail related
TRANSPORTATION/water related
Current Use TRANSPORTATION/water related
Style Other
Architect/Builder R. A. Stearn
Narrative Description The S. S. BADGER measures approximately 1.5 times the size of a football field. It's overall length is 410 feet 6 inches; its beam is 59 feet 6 inches, and it is four stories height. The BADGER's speed averages eighteen miles per hour, loaded. Its maximum capacity is 620 passengers and 180 automobiles, tour buses, recreational vehicles or semi trucks.
Statement of Significance In 1875 the Flint and Pere Marquette Railway initiated cross-lake passenger ferry service from Ludington, Michigan, to Cheboygan, Wisconsin. In November 1892 the Ann Arbor Railroad began transporting loaded railroad cars between Frankfort, Michigan and Kewaunee, Wisconsin. This was the first railroad car ferry on the Great Lakes and in the nation. Five years later the Pere Marquette Railway launched the first steel car ferry on Lake Michigan. In 1947, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad acquired the Pere Marquette Railway. In 1951 the C & O began an extensive expansion program for their ferry service. The company asked bids on a pair of car ferries. The Christy Corporation of Sturgeon Bay was awarded the contract for a low bid of about $5 million for each ship. L. H. Kent, representing the C & O, prepared the specifications for the new ships, and naval architect R. A. Stearn executed the design. The first of the two ferries was launched on January 4, 1952, without a name. Subsequently, when the second was launched on September 6, 1952, the first was christened SPARTAN, in honor of the athletic teams of Michigan State University. The second of the ferries was christened BADGER, after the teams of the University of Wisconsin. Much was made of the statement that they were the largest and best equipped car ferries in the world, but not the least of the ships' distinctions was being probably the last large coal-burning, passenger-carrying steamers ever to be built in America. Citing the rising cost of vessel upkeep, increasing labor and fuel costs and advances in railroad technology, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad began the longest railroad abandonment procedure in U.S. history in 1975. In October 1980, service to Milwaukee was abandoned. Then, in July 1983, the C & O sold the three remaining ferries of its fleet, BADGER, SPARTAN and CITY OF MIDLAND to Glen Bowden and George Towns of the newly created Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company. Summer passenger and auto revenues were not enough to offset the lack of rail freight traffic handled by the new company. In July 1991 Charles Conrad of Holland, Michigan, purchased the three vessels from MWT, establishing the Lake Michigan Carferry Service, Inc. But, in November of that year, Glen Bowden of MWT declared bankruptcy and the U.S. courts nullified the sale and seized the vessels. In February 1992, however, the court awarded the vessels to Charles Conrad who renovated BADGER and established passenger and automobile service to Manitowoc in June 1992. During the 1992 season BADGER ferried 115,000 passengers and 34,000 vehicles between Ludington and Manitowoc.
Marker Name Ludington Car Ferries/S.S. BADGER
Marker Text LUDINGTON CAR FERRIES Beginning in 1875, the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad shuttled produce, passengers and freight in wooden steamers between Ludington and ports in Wisconsin. In 1892 railroad car ferry service began on the lakes, eliminating the need to unload and load the cars before and after crossing the lake. Five years later, the Pere Marquette, the first steel railroad car ferry on the Great Lakes, sailed from Ludington. The Pere Marquette could carry thirty fully loaded freight cars. By 1930, nine boats made up the Ludington fleet. During the peak season of 1955, the ferries carried 205,000 passengers, 71,000 automobiles, and 141,000 freight cars in nearly 7,000 crossings. S. S. BADGER S.S. BADGER is one of fourteen ships that served in the Ludington railroad car ferry fleet. BADGER and its sister ship S.S. SPARTAN, were built in 1952 by the Christy Corporation of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C & O). Named for the athletic teams of the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University, the boats were a vital commercial link between the two states. The ferries joined the fleet begun in 1897 by the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad. Car ferry traffic peaked during the 1950s, then declined steadily. In 1983 the C & O sold off the last of its fleet, including BADGER and SPARTAN. BADGER, newly renovated in 1992, resumed automobile, truck freight and passenger service between Ludington and Manitowoc.
Period of Significance 1946-
Significant Date(s) 1952
Registry Type(s) 04/11/1997 Marker erected
03/06/1997 State Register listed
Site ID# P21315