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Indiana: The History and Archaeology of an Early Great Lakes Propeller

David Stewart Robinson
Thesis: May 1999
Chair: Dr. Kevin J. Crisman
Nautical Archaeology Program


The early Great Lakes propeller Indiana was built as a combination passenger and freight­-carrying steam vessel in 1848 at Vermilion, Ohio by itinerant Lake Erie shipbuilder Joseph M. Keating. Over the span of its ten year career, the vessel served the interests of its owners and several different shipping and railroad lines transporting passengers and a wide variety of cargoes before sinking on the evening of 6 June 1858 with a load of iron ore "down bound" for Cleveland.

Indiana holds an important place in the history of steamboat technology as the best preserved extant example of an early propeller driven Great Lakes vessel. Built seven years after the first propeller schooners appeared on the lakes, at a time when scientific principals were being applied for the first time in ship design and screw propulsion was proving itself to be an efficient, reliable, and economical mode of transporting freight, Indiana represents a "second generation" of early Great Lakes propellers that were larger, faster, and better equipped than their predecessors to serve the burgeoning Great Lakes freight and passenger trades of the late 1840s and the 1850s. Although virtually undocumented elsewhere, the transition between the transient propeller schooner of the early 1840s and the standardized propeller liner of the middle 1850s is clearly evident in Indiana's archaeological remains.

This thesis presents the results of a multi year archival and archaeological study of lndiana's operational history and wreck site. Narrative descriptions of Vermilion, Indianàs builder and owners, its ports of call, routes travelled, sinking, and salvage are provided in the introductory chapters (Chapters I and II). Chapter III presents an account of the archival and archaeological research that was conducted in the preparation of this thesis and includes a description of lndiana's wreck site. The main body of this thesis (Chapter IV) contains a detailed description of Indiana's hull construction, propulsion machinery, and deck equipment. Chapter V provides the supplementary evidence necessary for reconstructing Indiana's hull form and construction. Conclusions are presented in Chapter VI. Appendices include materials analyses reports and an extensive list and tabulation of lndiana's cargoes.

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