At Milwaukee’s Wolf & Davidson Shipyard, the wooden steamer William H Wolf was launched on August 6, 1887. For the Wolf & Davidson Steamship Company, she was constructed. The Wolf’s dimensions were 285 feet long, 42.3 feet wide, and 19.2 feet deep. Georgia pine, which is typically only used on coasting vessels, made up the majority of her ceiling, deck beams, and deck. Her oak beams were shipped in from Kentucky and Indiana.
There was a sizable crowd present for the launch of the William H, Wolf , a vessel that was exquisitely constructed. On the dock of the Northwestern Fuel Company, which is across the river from the shipyard, spectators gathered. She caused a huge wave that swept up in the dock ten or twelve feet, damaging the coal sheds and partially collapsing the dock, which was unfortunate for the spectators as she slid into the river.
The Milwaukee Sentinel’s description of the scene from August 7, 1887
“A suppressed cry of horror rose to the lips of the 3,000 or more people who witnessed the launch of the mammoth new steamer William H Wolf yesterday afternoon at Wolf & Davidson’s shipyard, as simultaneously with that occurrence a staging on the Northwestern Fuel company’s dock gave way and the seventy-five persons upon it were precipitated either upon the dock below or into the river. The spectators saw the huge vessel make her plunge as the last block was knocked away, a great wave was caused by the displacement of water, and through the wall of spray the platform was seen to lift and then crash down upon the docks below, burying many of the people beneath the fall timbers, maiming, mangling and wounding a score of the unfortunates. The cries of the unfortunates, the hoarse shouts of men rushing to the rescue, the shrieks of women and children, the splashing of the waves mingled in a sound that was painful discord to the ears of the horror-stricken spectators. The accident caused two fatalities, several person are so badly injured that death will probably ensue and twenty or more others are badly injured. Ten or twenty persons were thrown into the river, but it is not known whether all were rescued. The lifesaving crew and police dragged the river in the vicinity for two hours after the accident without bringing any bodies to the surface. Still many people believe a number were drowned and thought that the suction of the boat dragged the bodies out of reach of the searchers.”
The Wolf was a popular steamer and enjoyed a successful career up until October 20, 1921, when she caught fire while in the St. Clair River while downward bound. On the Canadian side of the channel, across from Marine City, she sank after burning to the water’s surface. When the fire was discovered, she had just finished unloading her pulpwood cargo at Port Huron and was heading down to dry dock. Of the 22 people on board, two were lost. She was floated, taken south of Fawn Island, and sunk in 1925. She now rests in about 50 feet of water and is a well-liked dive site. The William H. Wolf, is the largest wreck in the St. Clair River. The engine and propeller are still at the site, along with its two intact boilers.