The Lady Elgin

The Lady Elgin
The Lady Elgin
Courtesy Public Domain

On the night of Sept. 7, 1860, the side-wheel steamer Lady Elgin was making her way north from Chicago to Milwaukee across Lake Michigan. She was carrying 450 passengers. Three hours into the voyage, the weather turned with rain and strong winds. Suddenly, the Augusta, a southbound schooner laden with lumber, struck the Lady Elgin on the port side. Augusta continued on to Chicago, leaving the punctured Lady Elgin to flounder as she took on water.

When she sank, passengers and crew clung to bits of wreckage, floating cargo, each other, or to the few wood life preservers the Lady Elgin had for emergencies. Only about 100 people survived.

That disaster led to these Great Lakes shipping changes:

  • Improvements to ship lighting were required, including color-coded lights on different sides of a ship to let other ships know its direction of travel.
  • Inspections of ships became more stringent.
  • Safety regulation requirements were tightened up.
  • A new lifesaving station was built at the northern approach to Chicago at Evanston.
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