By Wisconsin Marine Historical Society Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 08, 2022 at 2:56 PM

(NOTE: We're resharing this 2019 story to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II Thursday in Scotland.)

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 – headquarted 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 cool old photos 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 photos and the WMHS folks share that story. This one was written by John Buellesbach of MKE Marine Reports (mkemarinerpt‌@‌gmail‌.com).


On July 7, 1959, Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, escorted by six destroyers, sailed past Milwaukee. On board were Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Neither made an appearance during the approximately half-hour Britannia was within site of the city. The royal armada was making its way from Chicago to Sault Ste. Marie.

June 18, 1959, now entering the seventh year of her reign, 33-year-old Queen Elizabeth II embarked on a 45-day, 15,000-mile tour. She would visit all of the Canadian provinces and cruise the Great Lakes.


At Montreal on June 26, President Eisenhower had joined the Queen aboard Britannia for the official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The recently completed waterway allowed Britannia access to the Great Lakes.

After a busy day in Chicago on July 6, the royal couple returned to Britannia, which departed just past midnight. She would deviate from a typical course up Lake Michigan to give Milwaukeeans a brief glimpse of British royalty. On the morning of July 7, the royal yacht and her escorts sailed past the city about a mile and three quarters from shore as they headed for Sault Ste. Marie.


Despite Coast Guard efforts to keep them away, a number of small boats went out for a closer look. Milwaukee’s fireboat Deluge offered a nautical salute, launching 52 tons of water per minute through 18 water canons. "The water jets, which soared 185 feet into the air, framed the royal yacht and her six-destroyer escort in a regal rainbow."

Carrying a delegation of city leaders and news reporters, the city’s harbor launch, Harbor Escort, sailed out to greet the royal visitors. But neither the Queen nor her husband came out to acknowledge the welcoming committee. Harbor Escort sailed alongside the royal yacht until she was off St. Mary’s Hospital. It then blew a salute and headed back to the harbor.

Launched in 1953 and commissioned a year later, Britannia was 412 feet long and 55 feet wide. Retired in 1997, her final mission was bringing home the last British governor of Hong Kong following its handover to the People’s Republic of China.

Now berthed in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britannia still draws a crowd.

(NOTE: Now 93, Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history. She was crowned at London's Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.)

For more images, check out the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society Facebook page.

Read more about the WMHS here.

Wisconsin Marine Historical Society 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.