History of Whalebacks and Pigboats on the Great Lakes

Ice clad whaleback on the lakes

This week’s Leelanau Enterprise has a cool feature titled ‘Pigboats’ once called on G-T Bay that includes a nice old photo and gives the history of this vanished class of Great Lakes vessel.

They were called pigboats not because they carried pigs, but because they had a distinctive pig-like bow.

The unique form of Great Lakes vessel was invented by Captain Alexander McDougall. Altogether, 40-some were built on the lakes between the years 1888-98.

For a number of years, they were so closely identified with the Great Lakes that some people thought all the lakes ships were whalebacks, even though the “pigs” never constituted more than a small fraction of the large inland fleet.

Photo credit: Glass negative of a whaleback freighter or “pigboat” from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress (LC-B2- 5328-14). See more photos of whalebacks/pigboats at the Library of Congress including this painting that gives you a better view of the “snout” of a pigboat.