SS Badger

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The SS Badger sets sail every summer on the mighty Lake Michigan. This vessel is the largest car ferry on the Great Lakes.[1] The journey for this coal powered ship hasn't always been smooth sailing, especially in recent years. However, with all the obstacles the SS Badger has faced, it can still be seen every summer making it's daily treks across Lake Michigan.

The Creation

Construction of the SS Badger was completed in 1952. In 1953, it went on it's maiden voyage in Lake Michigan. The ship was originally designed and built to sail across Lake Michigan year round, transporting railroad freight cars. Unfortunately, by the time the 1970's rolled around the usage of railroads began to decline across the country. This began to affect the usage of the SS Badger, along with many other Great Lakes ships, causing it to finally shut down (as a freight hauling operation) in November of 1990. [2]

Charles Conrad

Charles Conrad was born and raised in Ludington, MI. Conrad spent his early life working with environmental simulation chambers, which were crucial for testing aviation parts in WWII. He also created Conrad Refrigeration and Thermotron Industries, which both dealt with similar ideas. In Conrad's late years, he decided to purchase the SS Badger with his own money. He sacrificed a lot of his own personal money and gambled on an old run down ship to try and preserve Ludington and Great Lake history.

By May of 1992 the SS Badger was refurbished and reclaimed it's old waters of Lake Michigan. However, this time the purpose of the SS Badger was a passenger and auto vessel. Conrad remained active with the SS Badger until his death in 1995. Thanks to Charles Conrad, a historic part of Great Lakes history was restored and put back where it belongs. [3]


The SS Badger has made it's voyage every year since Charles Conrad saved the ship. The SS Badger sets sail every spring and is tied up for the winter at the end of fall each year. In 2017, the ship is scheduled to set sail May 19th, and set to rest for the winter on October 15th. The ship sets sail from 4-8 times a day across Lake Michigan, depending on the time of year. It travels back and forth between Conrad's hometown of Ludington, MI and Manitowoc, WI. When October 15th roles around, the vessel will go to rest in Ludington for the winter. [4]

Environmental Impact

The SS Badger is the last coal-fired ship on Lake Michigan. With using an older means of energy like coal, there becomes a higher risk of environmental issues. However, this issue has been addressed in recent years. In 2015, the SS Badger went on it's first voyage that didn't involve it's old practice of dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan. According to EPA documents, the ship was dumping nearly 4 tons of coal into Lake Michigan daily. [5] $2.4 million was invested in new equipment for the ship to satisfy the new environmental regulations. The EPA changed it's regulations in 2008, but the vessel was granted a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Vessel General Permit through 2012. Under the new Clean Water Act, this allowed the ship time to continue it's operation, until it was able to make the changes it needed. [6]

Impact on Economy

The SS Badger is a vital part of the economies in cities near the ports for the ship. Mayor Justin Nickels of Manitowoc, talked about how in Wisconsin, the SS Badger not only helps out Manitowoc, but also the Fox Valley and Door County. Many people that come in through the car ferry, end up driving to neighboring cities and exploring Wisconsin.[7] Keeping the ship is very important for communities such as these. Just recently, The SS Badger became a National Historic Landmark. This change in 2015, helped ensure the future of the Great Lakes vessel. [8]


  1. Manitowoc County: A Beacon on the Lakeshore. Ellen Langill. p 125. 1999
  2. History: SS Badger. 2017
  3. SS Badger, Charles Conrad. 2017.
  4. Visit Ludington: Sail Across Lake Michigan on the SS Badger Carferry. 2017.
  5. EPA: SS Badger/Lake Michigan Carferry, Inc. 2016.
  6. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: SS Badger will no longer dump coal ash into Lake Michigan. 2015.
  7. MinnPost: SS Badger sails again- and this time in accord with US environmental law. 2015.
  8. MLive: SS Badger ferry designated a National Historic Landmark. 2016.

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