By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 20, 2021 at 10:02 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 Feb. 20, 1929, a vessel named MILWAUKEE was launched in Germany.  Though she never made it to the Great Lakes, she probably received more publicity than any other vessel named MILWAUKEE.

(The MILWAUKEE is not to be confused with the S.S. CITY OF MILWAUKEE carferry that used to run between Milwaukee and Michigan.)

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Milwaukee delegation – Mrs. Daniel Hoan center with Capt Molchin of the MILWAUKEE, Chauncey Yockey and William George Bruce holding his hat, February 20, 1929.

Milwaukee’s Mayor Daniel Hoan, his wife, and an official delegation from Milwaukee including Harbor Commission chairman William George Bruce were honored guests at the launching party in Hamburg, Germany.  Mrs. Hoan had the honor of christening the ship.

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Unknown, Mayor Danial Hoan, Mrs. Hoan, Captain Molchin, Hamburg American Representative, February 1929.

The S.S. MILWAUKEE was built in Hamburg, Germany by the Blohm and Voss Shipyard.   It is believed to have been named MILWAUKEE as a goodwill and promotional gesture due to the city's large German population.

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Domed ceiling in the ship's lounge area.

Her owners, the Hamburg-American Line, designed her as a luxurious passenger vessel for the North Atlantic passenger trade.  She was a diesel motorship with a rated speed of 16 knots, measured 574 feet in length, had two mast and two funnels.  Her passenger capacity was 270 cabins, 287 tourist and 416 third class.  She also carried freight.

From 1929 through 1939, the MILWAUKEE sailed the Hamburg-Cobh-Halifax-New York route.   During World War II she was berthed at Kiel, Germany and used as floating living quarters most likely for the workers of the Kiel Naval Shipyards.

SS MilwaukeeX
SS MilwaukeeX

She was bombed by the RAF to prevent her being used as an escape ship by top-ranking Nazi personnel and then seized in May 1945.  Used by the US Navy as a transport ship, she was later allocated to the U.S. but was declined as her electrical system was of the single-pole type.  

She was taken over by Great Britain and renamed EMPIRE WAVENEY.  While in drydock at Liverpool for a refit, she caught fire Feb. 8, 1946.   Gutted and sunk, she was refloated in May but declared to be a total loss.  She was broken up in 1947.

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

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.