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The Thomas Wilson was built during the winter of 1891-1892 at the West Superior, Wisconsin, shipyard of the American Steel Barge Company. It was launched April 30, 1892. Its hull was of a special form known as a whaleback. Whalebacks were designed by Captain Alexander McDougall to carry bulk cargoes of grain or iron ore economically about the Great Lakes. The Wilson was the nineteenth whaleback and the sixth whaleback steamer built by Captain McDougall's shipyard. A pair of Scotch boilers provided steam for the three-cylinder, triple expansion steam engine, which drove a single screw propeller. Scotch boilers and triple expansion steam engines represented the most efficient propulsion system in existence in 1892. They became and remained the most popular form of mechanical propulsion until replaced by diesel compression-ignition, internal-combustion engines.
The Wilson had four near-identical ships. The Samuel Mather, launched in 1892, had hatches slightly smaller than the Wilson's but had a cargo capacity about 200 tons greater. The James B. Colgate, also launched in 1892, was a duplicate of the Wilson. The John B. Trevor, launched in 1895, had only eight hatches compared with twelve on the others. The John B.Trevor was the only one of the four with two cargo compartments. The Wilson was the last whaleback built with flush hatches. All the near-identical ships were built with hatch coamings.
After fitting out, the Wilson was taken to Duluth where it loaded its first cargo of grain bound for Buffalo, New York. After delivering the grain, the Wilson returned with a cargo of coal. In July, 1892, the Wilson ran aground and had to go into drydock for a new propeller. In May, 1893, while towing barge 101, the Wilson collided with barge 115 under tow of the Colgate. The collision caused $8,000 in damage to the barge's hull while the Wilson was intact enough to continue its tow. It went in for five days of repairs on June 18, 1893.
For eight years the Wilson operated as a bulk freighter for its builders, the American Steel Barge Company. In March, 1900, the Wilson was sold to the Bessemer Steamship Company of Cleveland, Ohio. In June, 1901, the Wilson was sold to the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. The Wilson operated in their fleet for just over a year until its loss in June of 1902 in Duluth Harbor.
|--Construction and Career-- |--Whaleback Freighters-- |--Description of the Wreck Event--|
|--Post-Depositional Impacts-- |--Present Description-- |--Significance-- |--Photographs--|
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