Monday, May 5, 2008

Leathem D. Smith...The Frank Lloyd Wright of the Maritime Industry

Leathem D. Smith of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin invented the self-unloading vessel and container shipping, both were lightning bolt innovations that revolutionized shipping industry around the world and made international shipping what it is today.
In 1918 he formed the Leathem Smith Dock Company on Sturgeon Bay's waterfront - now known as Bay Shipbuilding (builders of the newest Staten Island Ferry). Because of his innovative forward looking designs he became known as "the Frank Lloyd Wright of the Maritime Industry'.
His tragic death is a cautionary tale of the dangerous, mercurial nature of the waters around Door County.
On June 23, 1946, Leathem, his daughter Patsy, her college roomate Mary Loomis, an employee and an old business friend were sailing back to Sturgeon Bay from a sailboat regatta in Marinette. They were hit by a fierce, sudden squall on the waters of Green Bay. Leathem's sailboat overturned in the cold, heavy seas. The conditions were intense, keeping each other in sight was difficult and only one life preserver had not drifted out of reach...that being offered to Mary since she was not a strong swimmer. Leathem's employee and business friend succumbed to the cold water and disappeared in the waves. "On Leathem's insistence and reasoning that strength and age(he was 59) were against him, the two girls were bade farewell and ordered to strike for shore 5-1/2 miles distant in the waning daylight. Approximately 1/2 mile from shore, Mary was exhausted and became hysterical...she slipped from the life preserver towed by Patsy. After nearly five exhausting hours, at 1:30 am, Patsy reached shore and was assisted by occupants of a home whose lights were her beacon during her grueling swim."

Pictured is the USS Peoria, a 1430-ton Tacoma class frigate, fitting out at the Leathem Smith Shipbuilding Company shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

The stone that now lies beneath Chicago's Lake Shore Drive and the large stone seawall along Chicago's waterfront was quarried at Leathem's quarry and delivered by Leathem Smith Dock Company vessels.


Steve said...

The USS Peoria was sold to the Cubans not long after WWII and she was sunk by the Cuban Navy in 1975.

Also, I'm not sure he can be called the Frank Lloyd Wright of the Maritime Industry unless his ships leaked like Wright's buildings.

Anonymous said...

I was 10 when this tragedy occurred and my Dad had been invited on this trip. He was welding supt. at the shipyard during the entire war. For some reason, he chose not to go.

We were good friends with the "business associate" but I was always under the impression more shipyard managers were on the trip and perished, also.

Anonymous said...

I remember this day very well my brother and I were returning to Sturgeon Bay from a motorcycle trip we had taken around the peninsula when the strom hit as we were just north of carlsville, it blew us right off the road into the ditch on the opposite side of the highway.

Bill said...

Leatham D. Smith was known as the Henry Kaiser of the Great Lakes.

Wm. K. Wilson .. Leatham's grand nephew.

Bill said...

And btw: There were only 5 people aboard Leatham's yacht, the "Half Moon" when it sank.

Patsy's swim was well documented at the time, I know it was written up in a magazine, my sister has a copy of it.

The Half Moon was originally owned by FDR's father.