The Steamship William G. Mather
(Official Number 224850) is a retired Great Lakes bulk freighter now
restored as a museum ship in Cleveland, Ohio, one of four in the Great
Lakes region. She transported cargo such as ore, coal, stone, and grain
to ports throughout the Great Lakes, and was nicknamed "The Ship That
Built Cleveland" because Cleveland's steel mills were a frequent
Note: from 1905 till 1925 the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company had another
vessel named S.S. William G. Mather (O.N. 202542) in their fleet, also
built by Great Lakes Engineering Works. This former SS William G. Mather
was renamed SS J. H. Sheadle in 1925, and SS H. L. Gobeille in 1955.
After she had been sold to Gartland Steamship Co. she was renamed SS
Nicolet in 1965.
She was built in 1925 by Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ecorse,
Michigan, as the flagship for the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and was
named in honor of the then-company president, William Gwinn Mather.
William G. Mather remained the Cliffs' flagship until Edward B. Greene
(now Kaye E. Barker of the Interlake Steamship Company fleet) was built
in 1951-52. She remained an active part of the Cliffs' fleet until the
end of the 1980 navigation season.
In order to supply the Allied Forces need for steel during World War II,
William G. Mather led a convoy of 13 freighters in early 1941 through
the ice-choked Upper Great Lakes to Duluth, Minnesota, setting a record
for the first arrival in a northern port. This heroic effort was
featured in the 28 April 1941 issue of Life. She was one of the first
commercial Great Lakes vessels to be equipped with radar in 1946. In
1964, she became the very first American vessel to have an automated
boiler system, manufactured by Bailey Controls of Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1985, Cleveland-Cliffs sold its two remaining operating steamers to
Rouge Steel Company, and gradually sold off its idle vessels until only
William G. Mather remained, laid up in Toledo, Ohio where she had been
since 1980. On 10 December 1987, Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc. donated the
steamer William G. Mather to the Great Lakes Historical Society to be
restored and preserved as a museum ship and floating maritime museum.
After she was brought to Cleveland in October 1988 and funding was
acquired from local foundations, corporations, and individuals,
restoration began. Fire damage to William G. Mather's galley and after
cabin spaces required a major restoration effort. All over the vessel,
most of the work was supplied by volunteers who repaired, cleaned,
chipped, painted, and polished brass in order to restore William G.
Mather's former elegance. In October 1990, she was moved to her
permanent berth at the East Ninth Street Pier on Cleveland's North Coast
In September 1994 the Great Lakes Historical Society divested itself of
the museum. Due, in large part, to a groundswell of local support to
keep the Mather in Cleveland, the Harbor Heritage Society was created to
negotiate a new lease agreement with the city. Incorporated in June
1995, Harbor Heritage formally acquired William G. Mather on 22 July
1995, and in 1996 continued to oversee William G. Mather's ongoing
restoration, promotion, and development as a historic vessel. After 10
years of negotiations, the City Of Cleveland, represented by Mayor Jane
L. Campbell signed a 40-year lease on 15 June 2003, allowing William G.
Mather to stay at its East 9th Street berth.
On 30 July 1995 the Steamship William G. Mather was dedicated as an
American Society of Mechanical Engineers National Historic Mechanical
Engineering Landmark for her 1954 installation of a single marine boiler
and steam turbine engine, her 1964 installation of the Bailey 760 Boiler
Control System and American Shipbuilding AmThrust dual propeller bow
thruster—all firsts for U.S.-Flag Great Lakes vessels. She had a sister
ship of the same class, Joseph H. Frantz, but was later converted to
diesel, and was scrapped in 2005 after 80 years of continuous use.