Social Studies

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Shipping on the Great Lakes: Benefits and Consequences of Exporting Goods

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Learn how Lake Michigan is used for the shipping and exporting of goods. Lake Michigan is 118 miles at its widest point, 301 miles long and is the third largest Great Lake by surface area. Today Lake Michigan continues to be a major shipping route to and from the Midwest for freighters. 

The town of Singapore, founded in the 1830’s, was one of the first establishments on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan. This town started as an entrepreneurial town to rival Chicago or Milwaukee as a lake port. It quickly became known as a busy lumbering and timbering town.

White pine lumber was in great demand all over the Midwest until October of 1871. A couple of days after the Great Chicago Fire, a big forest fire burned the western side of Michigan near Singapore and depleted the timber supply. Singapore went bankrupt because of the weakened timber supply and became a ghost town.

With Singapore becoming a ghost town and no longer a Lake Michigan shipping port, timber and leather had to find a way to be shipped to Chicago and the Midwest. The town of Saugatuck became the nearest port on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan to ship goods across Lake Michigan to Chicago and the Midwest. 

With the decline of the timber industry, due to the forest fire, fruit farming was gaining popularity. Boats were needed to ship fresh fruit and leather across Lake Michigan.

With Lake Michigan becoming a major shipping route, this led to a decline in the fishing industry. 

The opening of the Welland Canal connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, via the St. Lawrence Seaway, had positive and negative effects on the ecosystems of Lake Michigan.