Capt. Frank W. Wheeler (1853-1921)
Biography: Shipbuilder and Congressman. Bio. Courtesy of "Links to the Past" website.
History of the Great Lakes, Vol. 2 by J.B. Mansfield Published Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co. 1899.
CAPTAIN FRANK W. WHEELER
Captain Frank W. Wheeler is at the head of the most prolific shipbuilding plant on the
lakes, and during the twenty-two years he have(sic) been engaged in the business there
have been launched from his yard, or more definitely speaking, by the company of which
he is president, one hundred and seventy-six vessels, many of them of the largest and
most modern type, of both wood and steel. He has created a notable industry, which has
not only prospered him but enhanced the prosperity of the locality in which his works
are situated, through the employment of labor and stimulation of business, and added
largely to the facilities of lake commerce. The work turned out under his direction stands
the test of storms, living gales and dangers from ice, and he has a right to be proud
Mr. Wheeler was born at Chaumont, near Clayton, N.Y., March 2, 1853, and is the son
of Chesley and Eliza (Haselton) Wheeler. The father was a ship builder and carried on
a shipyard in New York State, and in the fall of 1866 removed with his family to Saginaw,
Mich., where he resumed business. It was in that city that F.W. Wheeler acquired his
education, passing through the high school, after which he took an active working interest
in the shipyard with his father, and gained much of the practical experience so necessary
to his present business prosperity. He did not devote his entire time to the detail work
of the shipyard, however, as he sailed some, and the knowledge of the proper handling
of a steamboat thus acquired warranted him in applying for a license, which was granted,
and he now holds his ninth issue of first-class master's papers, which recite that he
is fully qualified to navigate steam vessels on all the lakes and their connecting
waters. Although his ship-building industry prevents him from entertaining political
aspirations, he is a public spirited citizen and represented his district, the Tenth
Michigan, in the Fifty-first Congress, but declined renomination.
In 1875, about a year before he associated with his father in shipbuilding, F.W.
Wheeler was united by marriage to Miss Eva, daughter of Joseph and Eliza Armstrong,
of Saginaw, and to this union one daughter, May Frances, was born. The family homestead
is situated at the corner of Van Buren and Center streets, Bay City, Michigan.
Captain Wheeler was about twenty-three years old when he entered the ship-building
business on his own account. This was in 1876, and the site was near where the approach
to the Third street bridge, spanning the Saginaw river, now stands. While his enterprise
was quite modest at that time, consisting mostly in rebuilding and repair work, he
built six small vessels the first three years, the first one launched being the passenger
propeller Mary Martini, in 1877. In 1880 he commenced the construction of the larger
class of vessels, which became so numerous as the years passed that they will be
tabulated in this article.
In 1889 the firm of F.W. Wheeler & Co. was incorporated, with a capital stock of
$500,000, the officers being F.W. Wheeler, president; H.T. Wickes, vice-president;
John S. Porter, treasurer, and C.W. Stiver, secretary. Additional land was secured
along the Saginaw river front to accommodate the enlarged enterprise, and a steel plant
of the most modern machinery purchased and the keel laid for the steel passenger steamer
City of Chicago, which was launched in June, 1890. The company then continued to build
both wood and steel vessels until the summer of 1896, when the yard for the building of
wooden ships was occupied by additional machinery and buildings to better facilitate
the work on steel vessels, which gave the company a continuous front on the Saginaw
river for the steel shipbuilding industry of 2,500 feet and running back to Washington
street, thus enabling them to build seven 500 feet steel vessels simultaneously, and
eight large ones have been on the stocks at one time, the register tonnage of which was
32,000. The yard is now equipped with two Brown hoists, each of 6,000 pounds capacity;
one balanced cantilever Brown hoist, with a capacity of about 25,000 pounds; two Myler
hoists, each of 20,000 pounds capacity; and one locomotive crane of the Brown type,
with a capacity of 20,000 pounds, the speed of the track being 200 feet per minute, of
the trolley 500 feet, and of the hoist 150 feet. In the fall of 1891 a fully equipped
plant and tools were added to the works of the company for the construction of modern
marine engines and machinery, since which time the company has built the engines for
F.W. Wheeler & Co. was the first concern on the lakes to make an effort to secure
work for the United States navy, and but for a certain clause in the treaty between
the United States and Great Britain they would have been awarded the contract for the
construction of the steamer Bancroft. The steamers built at this yard for ocean service
comprise of the Mackinaw and Keweenaw, which were launched in sections and put together
at Montreal; the Yula which went to Central American waters; four United States lightships; and the powerful tugs W.G. Wilmot, Robert W. Wilmot and the William H. Brown, all for
service on the Gulf of Mexico. The fine steel steamer Centurion was thus named for the
honor of being No. 100 on the builders' list, and the keel was laid on Captain Wheeler's
fortieth birthday. She was a noble work for a birthday of less than half a century,
being the largest vessel on the lakes at the time she was launched, in 1893. The table
which follows will present to the reader evidence of the industry and enterprise of
Captain Wheeler and the other members of the company.
List of Boats Constructed by F.W. Wheeler & Co.
1877 - stmr. Mary Martini; tug Luther Westover, 125 tons.
1895 - stmr. John J. McWilliams, (steel) 3400 tons; yacht Wapiti, (steel) 83 tons; stmr.
J. Watson Stephenson, 639 tons; stmr. Penobscot, 3402 tons; tug Silver Spray, 38
tons; stmr. Simon J. Murphy, (steel) 1381 tons; stmr. Katahdin, (steel) 1381 tons.
1896 - stmr. S.C. Waldo, (steel), 4244 tons; stmr, City of Bangor, (steel) 3690 tons;
stmr. E.W. Ogebay, (steel) 3666 tons; stmr. Lagonda, (steel) 3647 tons; stmr.
George Stevenson, (steel) 4584 tons; schr. James Nasmyth, (steel) 3422 tons;
Sir Isaac L. Bell, schr., (steel) 3419 tons; car ferry Pere Marquette, (steel)
1897 - schr. W. Le Baron Jenny, (steel); stmr. Niagara, (steel); tug Robert W. Wilmot,
(steel); tug Wm. H. Brown, (steel).
1898 -stmr. Samuel F.B. Morse, (steel; schr. John Fritz, (steel); schr. John Roebling,
The engine being constructed at F.W. Wheeler & Co.'s works for the new steamer Samuel
F.B. Morse will be the largest on the lakes, and is quadruple compound, the cylinders
being 26-1/2, 37, 54-1/2 and 80 by 42 inches stroke. The crank shafts are hollow, and
the bed plate for this great machine has been cast in one piece - a notable departure
1899 Political Bio. (Added Sept. 2004)
Biographical Directory of the Library of Congress.
Frank Willis WHEELER ________
WHEELER, Frank Willis, a Representative from Michigan;
born in Chaumont, Jefferson County, N.Y., March 2, 1853;
attended the common schools;
moved to Michigan in 1864 with his parents, who settled in East Saginaw;
attended the Saginaw High School and the Ypsilanti State Normal School;
engaged in boatbuilding;
moved to West Bay City, Mich., in 1876;
became master of the Saginaw River Tug Association;
engaged in shipbuilding at the Bay Cities for many years;
elected as a Republican to the Fifty-first Congress (March 4, 1889-March 3, 1891);
was not a candidate for renomination in 1890;
engaged in his former pursuits until 1899, when he moved to Detroit;
returned to Saginaw in 1917 and organized the Saginaw Shipbuilding Co., and was engaged in building boats for the United States Government;
died in Saginaw, Mich., August 9, 1921;
interment in Elm Lawn Cemetery, Bay City, Mich.
1883 - Directory: Bay City, Mich. - Crane, Alert A. - (Wheeler & Crane), res cor Ohio and Walnut, 2d ward.
- Wheeler & Crane - (Franklin W. Wheeler, Albert A. Crane) Ship Builders and Dry Dock, e s Washington nr J.L. & S.R.R
- Wheeler, Franklin W. (Wheeler & Crane), res n w cor Ohio and River, 2d ward.
1899 - Michigan Marriages: Bay City, Bay, Mich. Date: Oct. 4, 1899.
Groom: Geo. F. Clark, b. 1868, Canada, son of Geo. F. Clark and Abigel A. Burtck.
Bride: May F. Wheeler, b. 1876, Saginaw, Mich., daughter of Frank W. Wheeler and Eva T. Armstrong.
Armstrong, Eliza Mrs.
Armstrong, Eva T. (wife)
Armstrong, Joseph (f-inlaw)
Burtck, Abigel A.
Clark, Geo. F.
Clark, Geo. F. Jr. (son-inlaw)
Crane, Alebert A.
Haselton, Eliza (mother)
Porter, John S.
Wheeler, Chesley (father)
Wheeler, Frank W. (subject)
Wheeler, May F, (dau)
Williams, Geo. F.
Bay City, MI
Elm Lawn Cem, Bay City
Jefferson Co., NY
F.W. Wheeler & Co.
Gulf of Mexico
Saginaw High School
Saginaw River Tug Assoc.
Sagainw Shipbuilding Co.
Third st. bridge
Van Buren & Center, cor.
West Bay City, MI
Ypsilanti State Normal Sch.
Vessels: Bancroft, steamer
City of Chicago, steamer
Mary Martini, propeller
Robt. W. Wilmot, tug
W.G. Wilmot, tug
Wm. H. Brown, tug
Wheeler & Crane.