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Grant improves access to Superior shipbuilding history

Shana Aue, Archivist and Research Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Jim Dan Hill Library, who oversees the collection. In the photos, Aue is displaying some of the mechanical and technical drawings of the Edmund Fitzgerald that are part of the Fraser Shipyards Collection. Courtesy of Fraser Shipyard

A National Park Service grant is making it easier to research the history of Fraser Shipyards and shipbuilding in Superior.

The nearly $50,000 grant allowed research librarians at the Jim Dan Hill Library at the University of Wisconsin-Superior to catalog, better preserve and create a complete database of the Fraser Shipyards Collection. The collection includes more than 2,500 large format technical drawings and more than 6,700 technical drawings digitized from 35-millimeter slides. Some of the drawings date to the 1890s. Most are from shipbuilding, renovations, power-plant conversations, repairs and other projects from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Officials from Fraser Shipyards Inc. are grateful for the effort to improve the maritime research center at the university that makes nearly 10,000 of the company's shipbuilding documents more easily accessible for research and public viewing.

"Our company has been a part of Superior and the Northland since 1890, and our region has a proud history of building and repairing ships for service on the Great Lakes and beyond," said James Farkas, president and chief operating officer of Fraser Industries, which oversees Fraser Shipyards. "We know there is high interest in the maritime industry and in maritime research here. That's why we donated our technical drawings for more than 200 ships to the university in 2013. Now, because of the commitment of the research librarians at UW-Superior and the generosity of a National Maritime Heritage Grant from the National Park Service, these documents can more easily be found and viewed by those doing research on our industry, tracing the history of individual ships or simply exploring an interest in our area's maritime legacy."

In addition to technical drawings, the Fraser Shipyards Collection contains project files, correspondence, photographs and catalogs.

"It takes sometimes hundreds of drawings to build or work on a ship," said Shana Aue, archivist and research librarian at the Jim Dan Hill Library who oversees the collection. "We've already had quite a bit of interest in these documents, and now they are even more accessible. With all of the shipbuilding history in our community because of Fraser, it's fitting that we have this maritime collection."

Improved accessibility of the documents includes an online index that allows researchers to find cataloged information about specific vessels.

For example, records in the collection include those of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the legendary laker sunk in a storm in 1975 on Lake Superior. The Fitzgerald underwent work including a boiler upgrade at Fraser. Before that project began, Fraser workers requested copies of the original plans from the ship's 1957 construction at Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge, Mich. Aue noted that the blueprint-like documents sent to Fraser were accidentally copied backwards.

"It was just a mistake," she said. "To read them and work on the ship, the Fraser workers had to turn them over."

Along with maritime history researchers, Aue said, the collection is of interest to model builders, maritime archeologists and naval architects and engineers.

To view the Fraser Shipyards Collection, interested parties are encouraged to start with the online database, accessible at frasershipyardscollection.omeka.net, typing in names of ships or other search terms to find documents. Most documents then must be viewed in person at the Jim Dan Hill Library, 907 N. 19th St., Superior.

For more information or an appointment, email archives@uwsuper.edu or call (715) 394-8359. The library also can scan some records and drawings and deliver them electronically for a fee.

Fraser Shipyards, founded in 1890 in Superior, is the last major independent shipyard on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes.

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