Lakes Ship Files - formerly the Runge Collection Data on more than 10,000 vessels is in the Great
Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library. The files
include ships that sailed in 1679 and some that are on the lakes
today; some that are diesel-powered, some rigged with sails, and
some barges; cargo vessels, passenger boats, military and even pleasure
File Contents Each ship file answers these questions:
Is there a photograph(s) of the vessel?
Have there been magazine and newspaper articles about the ship?
When was she built and for whom?
Who was her captain?
What did she carry?
When did she sink and has the wreck been found?
Is there a painting or maybe a blueprint of her hull?
For copies, visit the Central Library Frank P. Zeidler Humanities
Lakes Marine Collection Database The
database of the Great Lakes Marine
Collection of the Wisconsin Marine
Historical Society and the Milwaukee Public Library has information
on over 10,000 Great Lakes vessels. It includes vessels from 1679
to the present. Each record contains information on the type of vessel,
when and where it was built, and size of the vessel. Most records
include the name(s) of the person or organization who built the vessel
and for whom it was built. Many records include additional information
on the physical characteristics of the ship such as the engine(s),
boiler, hull, hatches, and compartments. Most records include the
official number of the vessel. Each file contains information on
the history of the vessel. In some cases the information is rather
brief. However, usually there is considerably more information including
the names of the owners, captains, and masters of the vessel and
a list, with dates, of all changes in the name of the vessel. Often
there is additional information on wrecks and other events involving
The creation of the database, called Project Shipshape, was made possible
by matching grants from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program. Project
Shipshape was administered by the Wisconsin
Marine Historical Society which contributed thousands of hours
of volunteer and staff time and considerable financial support. Milwaukee
Public Library also contributed staff time.
The database serves as an index to the Ship Files. Go to the
database and click on Search. Use the Ship Name field name to
search for a vessel. Enter a name in the history field to see if the
person is listed as an owner, captain or master. The Files
are available for use in the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Reading Room
at the Central Library.
Photocopies of the contents of the files are available for purchase.
Most of the ships are already listed in CountyCat,
the library catalog. To find your ship, look in the
catalog and enter the name of the ship as if it were a title of a
If you have
Name of Ship
Name of Captain
McSorley, Ernest R.
Name of Owner
Oglebay Norton Company
Site of the Wreck
This will tell you the library has a file on the ship, but will
not tell you how many pictures or how much information the file contains.
To get the information, call or write:
Milwaukee Public Library
814 W. Wisconsin Ave.,
Milwaukee, WI 53233-2385
or phone (414) 286-3061
You can see it all when you visit the library, or it can be copied
and mailed to you for a fee.
History of the Collection
The cornerstone upon which the Great Lakes Ship Files is built is the
Herman G. Runge Collection, acquired by the library in 1959. Runge
devoted almost 70 years of his life to collecting and preserving information
on all aspects of marine activities on the Great Lakes. For years this
indefatigable man journeyed to all the principal lake ports, visiting
with government and shipping officials, captains and crews of lake boats,
ship photographers and fellow collectors. At the same time he kept up
a heavy correspondence with other compilers, government agencies and shipping
lines. When he died on March 16, 1958, he had become indisputably one
of the most knowledgeable and colorful collectors on the lakes. Mr. Runge's
handwritten cards are still available, but his handwriting needs some
effort to decipher.
The Runge Collection contained information on thousands of ships that
had sailed the Lakes as well as approximately 17,000 photographs of
Great Lakes ships. The Library transcribed the invaluable information
Runge collected onto permanent data cards specifically designed to record
a brief history and technical information on each ship. Staff of the
Humanities Room continuously updates the Great Lakes Ship Files, some
of which have grown to include dozens of items.
The files are no longer calledthe Runge Collection because
several other collections have augmented them. Additional notable
donors include John Nelson, John P. Kane, Harry Bethune Jr., Edwin Wilson,
Christopher G. Winscher and Lewis Buttles. Rose Kramer's 20,000 bulk
carrier photos arrived in 1986. Significant additions to the documentary
materials have come from the Kalmbach Publishing Company, Ralph Friedmann,
H.E.Stephenson, Louis Quarles, Edmund Fitzgerald, Harry Thorpe Jr.,
the Milwaukee Harbor Commission and Courtland Conlee. The files continue
Marine Historical Society (WMHS) and other groups
make extensive use of the Milwaukee Public Library Great Lakes
Marine Collection. Founded in 1959 when the Library received
the Herman Runge collection, the WMHS is dedicated to discovering,
collecting, recording, preserving and disseminating materials
related to Great Lakes maritime history. Since its founding,
the Society and the Milwaukee Public Library have
jointly developed one of the most important depositories of Great
Lakes historical materials in existence. Between 2004 and 2007
the WMHS administered the Shipshape grant that created the on-line
database that serves as an index to the collection.