Remembering the John P. Reiss
Courtesy of Wisconsin Marine Historical Society
One hundred years ago on Jan. 29, 1910, the American Ship Building Company launched the JOHN P. REISS at its shipyard in Lorain, Ohio. She was the first of three bulk freighters launched in 1910 for affiliates of the C. Reiss Coal Company of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She would enjoy a long, productive, and relatively incident-free career. She last ran in 1970, and was scrapped in 1973. In 1880, the newly formed Clemens Reiss and Company brought its first cargo of anthracite coal to Sheboygan by barge.
The firm incorporated as the C. Reiss Company in 1888 for the purpose of “selling and trading in coal, wood, salt and building materials.” Its name changed to the C. Reiss Coal Company in 1893. In the early 1890’s, Reiss Coal acquired the schooner R.P. MASON and the steamer WILLIAM RUDOLPH. In 1905, Reiss Coal organized the Wisconsin Transportation Company. The new firm acquired the steamers BRAZIL and AMERICA, and disposed of the MASON and the RUDOLPH. This marked the beginning of what would become the Reiss Steamship Company. As its business grew, Reiss Coal needed more capacity. Under construction at American Ship Building in 1909 was hull #377 ordered by John J. Barlum of Detroit.
Wisconsin Transportation purchased the vessel while on the stocks. She was launched as the JOHN P. REISS on January 29, 1910. She was 504 feet long with a 54-foot beam and capacity of 9,000 tons. Named for John P. Reiss, director of Reiss Coal and secretary treasurer of Wisconsin Transportation, she entered service on April 15th loaded with coal for Escanaba, Michigan. Wisconsin Transportation merged with the North American Steamship Company in 1913, and North American joined the Reiss Steamship Company in 1920.
Reiss Steamship was headquartered in Sheboygan. It gained a reputation for vessels that were well maintained and updated. The Reiss fleet was the first on the Lakes to be completely equipped with radio-telephones and radar. And all Reiss vessels, including the JOHN P. REISS, received bow thrusters. In May of 1928, the JOHN P. REISS aided in a rescue after the A.F. HARVEY rammed the whaleback steamer JOHN ERICSSON in dense fog on lower Lake Huron. According to reports, thirty crew members from the ERICSSON were taken aboard the REISS. The ERICSSON, loaded with grain for Buffalo, was towed to shallow water and beached. The HARVEY, her bow badly damaged, was able to make port.
In 1969, Reiss Steamship was sold to the American Steamship Company, which was controlled by Boland & Cornelius. The REISS sailed briefly for American Steamship, and was laid up at Buffalo in late 1970. The JOHN P. REISS, along with the other Reiss boats, were sold to Kinsman Marine Transit Company in 1972. This was in response to a Justice Department suit claiming the acquisition of the Reiss and Gartland fleets in 1969 gave Boland & Cornelius an effective monopoly over U.S. grain transportation on the Lakes. The REISS never sailed for Kinsman. Three months after acquiring her, Kinsman sold her for scrap. She was towed to Spain in 1973 and broken up.
Today, the C. Reiss Coal Company exists as a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Its president is William A. Reiss, a direct descendant of the company's founder, Clemens Reiss. Koch Industries is the second largest privately owned company in the United States. Its principal owners are Charles and David Koch, the Koch brothers, who are better known for their generous support of conservative and libertarian causes. Koch Industries ceased operations in Sheboygan. In 2001, the city purchased the 42-acre peninsula once used by the C. Reiss Coal Company as a storage and distribution facility.
The area is now known as the South Pier District. It includes the Blue Harbor Resort, which opened in 2004. In 1972, Ruth Reiss, daughter-in-law of the ship's namesake, donated a 5-foot scale model of the JOHN P. REISS to the Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library. Carved from mahogany, the model is on display in the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Room at the Central Library. Photo Credit: Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society. Wisconsin Marine Historical Society 814 West Wisconsin Avenue Milwaukee, WI 53233 414-286-3074 LIKE us on Facebook for event updates and historical notes of interest