Lake Carriers' Association Records

Identifier: GLMS-0044

Collection Overview


The Great Lakes shipping industry is documented through the files of one of the principal vessel owners' organizations for issues concerning the lakes and one of the primary benevolent associations for persons employed on lake vessels. Subject files on issues from diverting water out of Lake Michigan for the Illinois canal system to pollution control form most of the files in this collection. Records of death beneficiary payments offer information to genealogists tracing family members who worked on lake vessels. Navigation topics are discussed through files on the Coast Guard for 1932-1975. Lake Carriers' Survey for Harbor Improvements records address navigation on such matters as straightening tight turns in harbor ship channels (1927-1951). Communications technology designed to improve navigation is detailed in files on the Radio Technical Commission for Marine Services (1936-1979). The complete collection contains material in scattered form from 1860 to 2007. The majority of the files are from c. 1910 to 1985.


  • 1860-
  • Majority of material found within 1910-1991


173.66 Cubic Feet (116 record storage cartons, 54 letter manuscript boxes, 19 legal manuscript boxes, 1 half letter manuscript box, 4 card file boxes, and 1 oversize folder)

24 Reels (35mm microfilm)

2 Reels (16mm motion picture film)


Scope and Contents

The economic and policy history of the Great Lakes region receives extensive documentation for the 20th century through the files of the Lake Carriers' Association. The files form a body of information covering well over a century. Statistical data compiled in Lake Carriers' Association files extends the scope of the collection back to 1860.

The shipping industry, of course, receives particular emphasis through documentation of ship design, equipment updates, weather and safety concerns, profits and threats to them, lobbying activities, and the impact of shipping on lake-side cities. Additional research benefits accrue from files on changes in the Great Lakes environment caused by pollution.

Domestic and international politics can be examined from files on the creation and operation of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Those interested in the membership of the LCA will find vessel personnel death beneficiary files and card files available for the period c. 1910-1970. These files are especially valuable for genealogical research.

The series on the diversion of Lake Michigan water through Chicago's sanitary canal into the Mississippi River drainage system records an ongoing controversy pitting economic and political interests from Minnesota to the St. Lawrence valley against each other for the period 1912-1966. Assessments of environmental, economic, and political consequences for lowering or raising Great Lakes water levels are clearly stated throughout these files by forces favoring and opposing the Chicago diversions.

Navigation issues are addressed in a series of files regarding the Coast Guard (1932- 1975) and the Lake Carriers' Survey of harbor improvements (1927-1951). In particular, the survey files document the impact on urban geography in places such as Cleveland, Ohio where extensive alterations to the harbor and the Cuyahoga River are documented through letters, maps, and photographs.

The technological aspects of communications and navigation on the Great Lakes can be examined through files on radio apparatus introduced to the freighter fleets from the 1930s into the 1970s. The involvement of the Lake Carriers' Association with the Radio Technical Commission for Marine Services is well illustrated.

One of the largest series in the LCA collection is the subject correspondence file. Here, records span the period from 1860 to 1985. Commercial traffic, statistics on commodities transported, working conditions, political issues, and environmental concerns are all documented in the subject correspondence.

Most cartographic items, photographs, and ephemera have been interfiled in the Chart Collection, Main Photograph Collection, and General Reference and Pamphlet collections, respectively. Scrapbooks kept by the Association have been microfilmed; HCGL does not hold the originals.

Some common abbreviations you may encounter in the records:

  • AIOA: American Iron Ore Association
  • CSA: Canadian Shipowners' Association
  • DMA: Dominion Marine Association (became the CSA in 1988)
  • ICC: Interstate Commerce Commission
  • LCA: Lake Carriers' Association
  • NTSB: National Transportation Safety Board
  • SNAME: Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers
  • USCG: United States Coast Guard

Organization History

It has been well over a century since the current form of the Lake Carriers' Association, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio came into being. The initial vitality with which problems were addressed has continued with the organization to the present. The association through its long established committee structure approaches resolution of shipping industry problems with a directness and an expertise that mark it as an organization whose study is essential to the understanding of the economic and political history of the Great Lakes basin.

By the opening of the 1880s, the Great Lakes had become a vital conduit for resources directed to the burgeoning industrial centers of the United States. Methods of regulating numerous aspects of the transportation industry to maintain stable costs and profits were discussed in a variety of business organizations. As traffic increased, safety concerns mounted among vessel owners and crews.

The Lake Carriers' Association developed as an important professional body concerned with the shipping trade. On September 1, 1880 the Cleveland Vessel Owners' Association (one predecessor of the L.C.A.) was founded as the initial organization of vessel owners attempting to regulate Great Lakes shipping activities. In February 1881 a meeting was held in Chicago by representatives from the Cleveland Association and other local organizations in order to discuss common interests. Resolutions were passed and lobbying delegations were sent to Washington, D.C. to voice concerns held by vessel owners. Systematic means of reporting navigational hazards were prepared to be shared by all local organizations.

The various local organizations worked in a loose alliance for several years. In 1885 the Lake Carriers' Association was founded by local vessel owners in Buffalo, New York. Duplication of lobbying efforts led to a series of meetings in 1891 to discuss creation of a single organization.

On April 28, 1892 the attendees at a meeting held in Detroit, Michigan agreed to merge the active Cleveland Vessel Owners' Association with less active local groups and the original Lake Carriers' Association from Buffalo. M.A. Bradley served as the first president. The L.C.A. of today dates from this 1892 merger.

During the years leading to World War I, the expansion of L.C.A. to include nearly all the major freight carriers helped stabilize economic conditions important to the success of Great Lakes shipping interests. Establishing a method for setting freight rates at levels acceptable to vessel owners and their customers occupied the L.C.A. for much of the pre-war era.

A marked thoroughness of analysis in forming position statements established L.C.A.'s reputation as an able representative of Great Lakes shipping interests and increased the L.C.A.'s political power. L.C.A. files document activities in numerous labor negotiations and political battles.

During periods of American involvement in twentieth-century foreign wars, the L.C.A. actively participated in planning the delivery of resources for the defense industry. World War I era files document the L.C.A.'s involvement in attempting to alleviate grain shortages by working with the Grain Clearance Corporation to improve shipping procedures. Correspondence with the Office of Defense Transportation from the 1940s illustrates L.C.A.'s role in improving the carrying capacity of ore freighters involved in supplying the steel industry with raw materials. Discussions regarding the impact of the selective service system on the availability of vessel crews reflect L.C.A.'s involvement in wartime planning in the 1950s.

In its early years the L.C.A. intended to find means to achieve "prompt and amicable" adjustments of issues of interest to the Great Lakes vessel owners. Today, the L.C.A. continues to pursue this goal in its relations with vessel owners, labor organizations, domestic and foreign political bodies, and other groups sharing interests in the economy and environment of the Great Lakes basin.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to U-matic tapes and motion picture film cannot be provided due to the Center for Archival Collections not having the appropriate playback equipment.

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.


The collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Committees, 1860-1983
  2. Personnel, 1910-1970
  3. Correspondence, 1912-2002
  4. Lake Carriers' Survey, 1933-1977
  5. Proceedings, publications, reports, and statements, 1880-2007
  6. Subject files, 1883-2019
  7. American Iron Ore Association records, 1907-2001
  8. Videotapes and films, 1987-1994, n.d.
  9. Scrapbooks and clippings, 1880-1983

Existence and Location of Originals

The original scrapbooks that were mircofilmed for this collection are still retained by the Lake Carriers' Association.

Existence and Location of Copies

Contents of Box 117, Folders 1-7, are available on reel 24 of the microfilm portion of the collection.

The University of Michigan has digitized and made fully available the annual reports of the LCA for 1907-1923 via HathiTrust.

Separated Materials

Photographs in this collection were kept separated out and were interfiled in GLMS 120-Main Photograph Collection. Annual reports are in book form and were cataloged individually and incorporated into the HCGL book collection. Charts and maps were interfiled into GLMS 104 - Chart Collection.

Related Materials

Official photographs of the Lake Carriers' Association have been interfiled in GLMS 120 - Main Photograph Collection. Cartographic materials have been interfiled in GLMS 104 - Chart Collection. Other materials, including pamphlets, annual reports, and videos are available via a search of the Library catalog.

For a comprehensive history of the organization, see the book "Lake Carriers' Association History, 1880-2015" by past L.C.A. president George J. Ryan, which is available via the Library catalog.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The records of the Lake Carriers' Association were donated to the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes in August 1985. Additional donations were made in the late 1990s.

Processing Information

Final processing of the initial accession was completed in 1991 by Mark J. Barnes, Monica Manny, and A.J. Du Fresne with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Final processing of later accessions was completed by Archivist Mark Sprang in 2018-2019.

Guide to the Lake Carriers' Association Records
Mark Sprang
May 2019
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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