Luxury on the Great Lakes: the era of ‘palace steamers’

Aug 31, 2015

The Great Lakes might not be your first choice for a cruise vacation. But the passenger ships in the region used to be some of the most luxurious in the entire world. We learn more about these “floating palaces” from Detroit Historical Society Joel Stone, whose recent book profiles the history of the Great Lakes steamship industry.

The South American was one of a number of "palace steamers" that carted passengers around the Great Lakes.
Credit Wikimedia Commons/University of Maryland Digital Collections)

If you wanted to travel in style around the Great Lakes during the 19th and early 20th centuries, you took a steamship. The boats' massive ballrooms and ornate furnishings earned them the nickname “palace steamers.” 

The ships got their start transporting goods and troops around the region during the War of 1812, and they quickly became a thriving industry in the Midwest.  Current State's April Van Buren talks to Detroit Historical Society curator Joel Stone, whose recent book Floating Palaces of the Great Lakes profiles the rise and fall of the steamship industry in the region.