Michigan State University

Regular hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10AM-5PM | Closing at 1PM on 9/2

Iron Hulls and Turbulent Waters: Ore Boats, Workers and Great Lakes Shipping

Since the 1840s and continuing today, the Great Lakes provide a significant transportation network for the shipping of lumber, wheat, corn, coal, and iron ore, commodities critical to the American economy.

Iron ore may be the most important of those commodities, through the Industrial Revolution and into the present. Even now, nearly half the cargo moving through the Great Lakes is iron ore, the main ingredient needed for the production of steel.

The ships that transport iron ore today are 1,000 feet long and can hold nearly 60,000 tons of ore pellets, also known as taconite. Once processes, that’s enough steel to manufacture 16,000 cars! It is a sight to behold watching one of these ships move through the Straits of Mackinac as it makes its way to its destination.

Their immense size and massive loads, contrasted with the effortless grace they cut across the waters, make the Great Lakes freighters a source of intrigue. How does this work?

It takes many skilled workers to build these ships and keep them seaworthy. From 1979-1985, photographer Jim Brozek took these extraordinary images of people doing this work on Jones Island in Milwaukee Harbor. By working as one of them, Brozek was able to capture these men and their work in candid and dramatic ways.


Wednesday, October 21 – 7:00 PM
A Poetry Reading by Cindy Hunter Morgan
This MSU Center for Poetry event will feature the poet reading from her collection which focuses on Great Lakes shipwrecks and maritime disasters. This reading and the rest of the Fall Center for Poetry writers series is co-sponsored by Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives 
RCAH Theater, Snyder Hall, MSU

Thursday, October 29, 5:30 – 7  PM
Exhibit Reception and Gallery Tour

Featuring Photographer Jim Brozek
MSU Museum Ground Floor Gallery

Friday, October 30 – 12:15 PM
“Capturing the Iron Hulls from the Inside: Worker/photographer, Photographer/worker”
An Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives presentation by James Brozek, photographer and former ore boat winter repair laborer.
MSU Museum Auditorium

Tuesday, November 10 – 7:00 pm 
“Iron Ore, Shipping and Shipwreck: A Panel in Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
Dean Anderson, State Archeologist, State of Michigan
Peter Kakela, MSU School of Sustainability
Michael Velbel, MSU Dept of Geological Sciences
The panel will address the nature and shipping of iron ore, Great Lakes shipwrecks, and commemorate the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975. MSU Our Daily Work, Our Daily Lives Lecture / MSU Library Colloquia Series.
North Conference Room, 449W MSU Main Library
Tuesday, November 17 – 7:00 PM
Book Talk and Signing by Robert Campbell, author of Classic Ships of the Great Lakes
Schuler Books, Meridian Mall 1982 Grand River Ave, Okemos
October 1 – December 31, 2015
“Shipwrecks: Sunken Treasures of the Great Lakes”
This companion exhibit was put together by Tom Volkening, MSU Engineering Librarian
Exhibit Space, 3rd Floor West
MSU Main Library

Ground Floor

Learn more