By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 05, 2022 at 7:28 AM

Fans of Milwaukee – and Great Lakes – history who haven't signed up for the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society's mailing list are missing out.

The group – headquartered at Milwaukee Public Library, which I featured in this story a few years back – is very active in terms of collecting and archiving documents and photos and objects and also hosts numerous events each year.

The newsletter is an easy way to find a cool old photo in your inbox every week (sometimes more). And, because these folks are history buffs like the rest of us, there's always a story behind the photo and the WMHS folks share that story.

Here is today's story – written by Suzette Lopez – from the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society:

On this day April 5, 1890, the largest wooden steamer ever built on Lake Michigan slid into the water at Milwaukee’s Wolf & Davidson shipyard. The Fred Pabst made quite the splash as reported below by the Milwaukee Journal of that day.

”The steamer Fred Pabst was launched this afternoon at 2:30.  This is undoubtedly the largest wooden vessel on the lakes, and when her stays were cut away and the immense structure began to slide towards the water’s edge, it seemed as though a seven-story brick block had gone on a bender and was taking in the South side.  Half way over her ways she took a tumble to herself, landing in the water some feet below, on her side, at an angle of fully 45 degrees.  Just how those who remained on board managed to save themselves is still a mystery, but that they did it is evident from the fact that the coroner’s services have not been required.”

The coroner’s services were not required but a man watching the launch sitting on the rail of the schooner barge Fanny Neil was shaken off and fell into the water.   It was reported that when he was fished out he had only received a cold bath and a black eye.

Fred Pabst at Sheboygan.

Named for Milwaukee’s brewer Captain Fred Pabst, the Pabst was 310 feet in length over all, 42 feet in beam and 24 feet in depth of hold. She was built for heavy freighting with heavy oak frames held firmly by steel straps, carried three pole spars, without canvas, and a single smoke stack of considerable diameter.

At the mastheads, in honor of the gentleman after whom she was named, miniature beer kegs took the place of the balls always seen there.  Capt. Daniel P. Craine, formerly of the Thomas Davidson, took command of her and a crew of at least twenty men.  

Fred Pabst down bound in the Soo Canal.

Her owners Wolf & Davidson Steamship Company had made a contract with the Chapin Mining Company to transport ore between Escanaba and Lake Erie ports.  The new vessel was valued at $154,000.

The Pabst sailed until Oct. 11, 1907, when at 4 a.m. while bound up in the St. Clair River between Fort Gratiot light and Point Edward light just off Port Huron, she was sunk by the steamer Lakeshore. 

Fred Pabst at Port Huron as a floating dry dock dated 1935.

The Lakeshore was badly stove in about the bow but her forward bulkhead saved her from sinking and she limped off for repairs. The Pabst sunk close to shore and the crew all went into the pilot house and were safe. 

The Fred Pabst was a constructive total loss. She was later raised, dismantled and converted into a floating dry dock and used at Port Huron by the Reid Wrecking Co.

(PHOTOS:  Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.)

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.