Remembering Edmund Fitzgerald

Who is Lake Superiors’s Most Famous Shipwreck Named After?

There has been a heck of a lot written about the Edmund Fitzgerald – books, articles, famous songs – but there isn’t a much out there on the man who’s name was printed on the ship’s hull. In preparation for our November 10th Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial at Split Rock Lighthouse, our Team dug up a bit of Edmund’s history. So today we honor Edmund.

Edmund Fitzgerald

Elizabeth and Edmund Fitzgerald pictured aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1959. Image: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The namesake for the ship that would eventually be called “Superior’s Titanic” was – obviously – Edmund Fitzgerald. Edmund – born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1895 – became head of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in Milwaukee and had several family ties to the Great Lakes including his grandfather who had been a lake captain, his father who owed a company that built and repaired ships, and several of his brothers who served on Great Lake vessels.

Northwestern Mutual was heavily invested in the iron and minerals industries, including the construction of Fitzgerald itself. In honor of his imminent retirement in 1960, the pride of the Columbia Norton fleet was named for him. As the story goes, Edmund was a modest man and didn’t actually want the freighter named after him. However, his wife and the board of Northwestern Mutual encouraged the naming due to the strong Fitzgerald family connection to Great Lakes shipping.

Prior to his death in 1986, Edmund Fitzgerald was quoted as being “deeply saddened by the wreck of the ship named for him.” That seems only natural.

Interestingly – for all you baseball fans out there – Fitzgerald’s son, Edmund B. Fitzgerald, co-founded the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970.

Annual Beacon Lighting Ceremony

Each year, the Minnesota Historical Society commemorates the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald at Split Rock Lighthouse. The lighthouse, fog signal building, and visitor center will be open and costumed interpreters will provide historic site and shipwreck information. The lighthouse will close temporarily at 4:30pm while the names of the crew members are read to the tolling of a ship’s bell. Following the ceremony, the beacon will be lit, and the tower will be open again to tour. This is the only opportunity each year when visitors can climb the tower after dark and see the lit beacon.

Visit the Minnesota Historical Society for information on this year’s Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Richard T Zawistowski November 8, 2019

Great article, always wondered about it. Thanks!

Dave Grandmaison – President, CEO, Duluth Native and Guide November 8, 2019

Thank you Richard! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Gary November 11, 2019

Great article.

Dave Grandmaison – President, CEO, Duluth Native and Guide November 12, 2019

Thanks Gary!

Daniel Moore November 12, 2019

Very interesting article. I’ve often wondered how the ships name came about. Thank you for sharing this.

Dave Grandmaison – President, CEO, Duluth Native and Guide November 12, 2019

Thank you Daniel. The story of The Edmund Fitzgerald is important to remember.