John McLaughlin Papers

Identifier: GLMS-0102

Collection Overview

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of diaries kept by McLaughlin during his time as a marine engineer serving on the Great Lakes from 1886-1927. It is not known if he began to keep diaries from before that time, but this set is complete for the 41-year span of the collection. The diaries provide a wealth of firsthand information about the life a marine engineer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection is also unique in that he served aboard many different types of vessels during his career afloat, including tugs, lumber boats, train ferries, passenger vessels, bulk cargo ships, and steamers. McLaughlin's service came at a time of rapid change on the lakes, with sail giving way to steam, vessels being built with steel instead of wood, and sizes continually increasing. His experience with the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association provides valuable insight into the dynamics of labor relations on the lakes during that time.


  • 1886-1927


4 Reels (4 reels of 35mm microfilm)


Biographical Sketch

John McLaughlin was born on February 18, 1854, on a farm in East Frampton, Quebec. He was one of eight children. He moved to the Cheboygan, Michigan, area along with his brother Richard sometime in the early 1870s, and the two of them ran a small sawmill for a few years. In 1877, McLaughlin married Susan Dawson and together they would go on to raise eleven children. When he started keeping diaries is unclear, but his complete set from 1886-1927 survives. He trained to become a marine engineer and spent many years serving on Great Lakes vessels, including ferries, cargo vessels, and tugs. McLaughlin was also active in the union Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, helping to found the Chebyogan, Michigan, chapter in 1886 and serving as both a chapter officer and as a delegate to the national convention for many years. Because of his union activities, he occasionally found humself unable to find work afloat and had to replace the lost income by working in machine shops or shipyards. McLaughlin spent his later years as the chief engineer for the Cheboygan water works. He passed away in 1937. Several of his sons followed in his footsteps to serve as marine engineers on Great Lakes vessels.

Conditions Governing Access

No known access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers using this collection assume full responsibility for conforming to the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright, and are responsible for securing permissions necessary for publication or reproduction.

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Diaries arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The John McLaughlin diaries were loaned to the Center for Archival Collections for microfilming in 1995.



Guide to the John McLaughlin Papers
Mark Sprang
April 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note