A Grand Voyage Through Time on the Great Lakes

Ahoy, history and maritime enthusiasts! Set sail on a captivating journey through time with the SS Milwaukee Clipper, a National Historic Landmark and icon of the Great Lakes. From her beginnings as the Juniata to her current status as a beloved museum, the Clipper boasts a rich and fascinating history.

Vintage image of the great lakes steamship Juniata sailing on lake michigan

Early Years (1904-1935):

Our tale of the mighty Milwaukee Clipper begins in 1904, when she was designed by naval architect George Sharp and built for the Anchor Line. Christened the "Juniata.", she spent her early years shuttling passengers and cargo between Duluth and Buffalo, carving a path across the Great Lakes. Its narrow design (361 feet long, 45 feet wide) allowed it to navigate the Soo Locks with ease. In 1915, the Juniata joined the Great Lakes Transit Corporation, faithfully serving the region for two decades. Notably, during the 1933 season, it played a crucial role in transporting visitors to and from Chicago for the famed Century of Progress World's Fair, solidifying its cultural significance.

art deco style McArthur chairs with auqa color cushions lined up on lounge area of Milwaukee Clipper Lounge

Art Deco Transformation (1936-1940):

The winds of change swept across the Juniata in 1936. Declining passenger numbers and stricter safety regulations led to its retirement. However, the Wisconsin & Michigan Steamship Co. stepped in, acquiring the ship and whisking it off to the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company for a groundbreaking transformation. Its wooden superstructure was replaced with an all-steel, streamlined design – the first of its type in the world! Fireproof construction, modern oil-fired boilers, and a full Art Deco interior completed the metamorphosis. Renamed the Milwaukee Clipper, the ship embodied sleek modernity, ready for a new adventure as a floating entertainment palace.

tubular steel warren mcarthur art deco chair with coral cushions sits in lounge of ss milwaukee clipper museum ship

A Touch of Modern Flair: Warren McArthur's Design

The Art Deco makeover wasn't just about functionality. The new owners envisioned the Milwaukee Clipper as a luxurious floating entertainment palace. To achieve this vision, they incorporated the work of renowned designer Warren McArthur. McArthur was already well-known for his innovative tubular aluminum furniture, particularly after its use on the ocean liner America. The McKee brothers, impressed by McArthur's design on the America, specifically requested his furniture for the Milwaukee Clipper during the transformation.

vintage luggage and hat box on luggage counter aboard the ss Milwaukee clipper museum sip

Golden Age of Travel (1941-1970):

1941 marked the grand debut of the SS Milwaukee Clipper! The maiden voyage from Manitowoc to Milwaukee was a grand affair, christened by Patricia Suzanne McKee, daughter of the steamship line director. The christening bottle held Wisconsin Cream, a delightful nod to the ship's Midwestern roots. The Clipper officially took over the passenger ferry route between Michigan and Wisconsin, carrying a staggering 900 passengers and 120 vehicles per trip across Lake Michigan. Imagine the lively atmosphere on board!

art deco style cafeteria on the museum ship ss milwaukee clipper

The Clipper's impressive dining service dished out 1,700 meals during daily trips, with Sundays reaching a whopping 2,500 meals. Visitors can even see the cafeteria where these meals were prepared on a guided tour.

Even World War II saw her playing a vital role, transporting essential defense materials across the water. For nearly three decades, the Clipper reigned supreme, offering a comfortable and convenient passage for countless travelers. But her story doesn't end with retirement!

man in blue baseball cap stands behind wooden captains wheel in brigde of milwaukee clipper museum ship

Museum Rebirth (1977-Present):

In 1977, the Clipper embarked on a new chapter as a floating museum and restaurant at Chicago's Navy Pier. Recognizing its historical significance, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. After a journey back to its home port of Muskegon in 1997, the Clipper underwent a significant restoration process and reopened to the public in 2000. Today, the restoration continues under the dedicated leadership of volunteers, ensuring the preservation of this iconic vessel for future generations.

vintage movie projecter sits in aisle between art deco style theatre chairs

Step Back in Time:

Today, the Clipper stands as a living museum, offering a unique window into maritime history. Guided tours explore passenger and crew cabins, dining areas, the ballroom, decks, bridge, theater, soda shop, and more! The original Warren McArthur furniture adds a touch of authenticity, transporting you back to the ship's Art Deco heyday.

wooden dance floor surrounded by iron railing ornamented by seahorses.

Special events like classic movie nights and dance parties, on the beautiful wooden dance floor, bring the past to life, recreating the lively atmosphere of the passenger ferry days.

model ship of the Muskegon in the model ship room of the milwaukee clipper museum ship

More Than Just a Museum:

The gift shop, doubling as a small maritime museum, awaits with displays showcasing Great Lakes memorabilia and an Aquarama section. A room filled with model ships completes the picture. These areas are free to explore, offering a taste of the Clipper's rich history before embarking on a full tour.

circular black and aluminum art deco style Bar on Milwaukee Clipper

The Clipper Lives On:

The SS Milwaukee Clipper's journey is a remarkable tale of Great Lakes maritime heritage, a living testament to a bygone era of grand lake travel. Whether you're a history buff, a maritime enthusiast, or simply someone seeking a unique and immersive experience, the Clipper awaits your visit. Step aboard and take a journey through time you won't soon forget!

white sailor hat with red clipper logo. text to left reads view visitor guide