The Milwaukee Clipper

The most compelling thing I can say about the Milwaukee Clipper is this ship needs to be saved. As Michiganders, we have rallied around the Edmund Fitzgerald, the SS St. Clair and the SS Columbia and many other ships on and of the Great Lakes. Ships are a part of our Great Lake DNA.

The Milwaukee Clipper docked in Muskegon, Michigan.


The Milwaukee Clipper set sail in 1905 as a passenger ship under the name of the SS Juniata. It has been many things in its lifetime including a ferry, a passenger-liner, and a freighter. The Milwaukee Clipper has sailed all of the Great Lakes, except Ontario. She traveled from as far away as Buffalo to Duluth, Minnesota. She even operated year round. 

During World War II she operated across Lake Michigan rotating between Muskegon, Chicago, and Milwaukee. She finally became a Summer-only ship in 1970. Later, the. Milwaukee Clipper was listed on the National Register of Historic places. 

Passengers aboard the Milwaukee Clipper

The Tour and the Next Chapter for the Milwaukee Clipper

You can still tour the Milwaukee Clipper. Tours are available Monday through Wednesday. Thursday through Saturday is reserved for restoration repairs.

Stepping onboard the Milwaukee Clipper, the first thing you notice is the community. We know about the resilience of Detroit, the hardiness of the Upper Peninsula, the pride of the West Side, but have you ever met people from Muskegon? They show up. Right from orientation, the coordinator asked the group of recruit volunteers if they had the skills and commitment to push the project in the right direction. People responded with, what do you need? Where can we sign up? They signed the paperwork, took the tour and discussed the action plan.

The original bar on board the Milwaukee Clipper.

Some volunteers are back week after week, and others come back season after season. When needed, the restoration group hires a professional. The entire ship is painted top to bottom annually. There are repairs every season to keep it water tight. They need a lot of volunteers.They need welders, painters, and cleaners.They need volunteers to lead tours. Every detail needs attention.

The Milwaukee Clipper has such a story to tell. The decks are lined with original furniture. You can see where people dined, relaxed, enjoyed a drink from the bar, or a treat from the soda fountain. The view is akin to enjoying travel on a historic train. It is nostalgic, captivating and piques the curiosity.

An art deco state room aboard the Milwaukee Clipper.

Given the captured-in-time feeling, I had to ask the question, was she haunted? With a chuckle our guide said, no! Two paranormal teams had spent the night there and were disappointed there was no paranormal activity. Case closed!

A look at the dining room aboard the Milwaukee Clipper.

Some day, they hope to turn Milwaukee Clipper into a venue to host weddings, parties, corporate events and overnight guests. All the bones are there. State rooms are adopted and restored. The structure of the ship remains intact. You can still imagine what it was like to travel in the early 20th century.

The Soda Bowl aboard the Milwaukee Clipper.

For those of us who enjoy the history of our maritime industry, the Milwaukee Clipper is a unique opportunity to preserve it and put our passion into action.

Some people toss away old things instead of investing in them. That’s fair. There is another case to be made with the Milwaukee Clipper. She is like Michiganders. She is hardy. She is tough. She can weathers great storms just like we do. We are faithful to these ships because they are as much a part of the Great Lakes as the people of Michigan.

The Milwaukee Clipper is both an opportunity and a calling. If you have idle hands, spare time, and the proper skills, consider stepping up to volunteer. Financial donations and more corporate sponsorships are needed. Donations can be made directly to the website or they can be mailed to the preservation society.

Carol Charron

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