All along Wisconsin’s 820 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, storms could mean the difference between profit and financial ruin, survival and terrifying death. This lifesaving medal reminds us of the risks that sailors and Wisconsin’s maritime communities have routinely faced since the early 19th century, and it documents the personal bravery, dedication, and ingenuity of those who would rescue their fellows from disaster.
Listen to the Lifesaving Medal segment on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life.
About the Author: David Driscoll
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Themes in Wisconsin History
The Le Maire Sundial is a rare example of a mid-18th century French sundial (cadran solaire) compass (boussole). It was found near Green Bay in 1902 by a local antiquities collector, Frank Duchateau. The sundial is broken, missing its glass compass cover as well as the back of its gnomon holder. Located on the front surface,…
The SS Meteor was launched as the SS Frank Rockefeller in Superior, Wisconsin by the American Steel Barge Company in 1896. The last remaining of only 44 “whaleback” ships ever built, she was designed by a Scottish immigrant named Alexander McDougall. She is 380 feet long, 45 feet wide and 26 feet deep. You may notice that the SS Meteor looks somewhat different…
In the second half of the nineteenth century, railroads remade the geography of the Midwest. In an era when roads were often muddy filled with holes, the railroad made it faster to travel from Superior to Milwaukee by rail than from Superior to Ashland by wagon. In Wisconsin, the Chicago and Northwestern, The Milwaukee Road,…
On September 10, 1875, six rescue boat volunteers were dispatched to aid the crew of the Tanner, a cargo ship foundering in Milwaukee Harbor after being struck by a powerful storm. All six of the rescue boat …
A Slow Beginning As maritime commerce grew in the early 19th century, the loss of vessels and crews to shipwreck increased. In 1848, the federal government, through the United States Revenue Marine, established its first lifesaving …
The Wrecked Vessel The Tanner was a barque, or three-masted ship whose foremast was square-rigged and whose main-and mizzenmasts were fore-and-aft rigged. She measured 156.38 feet long by 31.75 feet in breadth. She was built in 1863 by the Milwaukee …
Special thanks to Tamara Thomsen, underwater archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Preservation Program.
Object courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
(Wisconsin Historical Museum object 1972.31.)