Cruise and liner history: SAILING THE GREAT LAKES on the SS SOUTH AMERICAN and SS NORTH AMERICAN
The history of commercial passenger shipping on the Great Lakes is long but uneven. It reached its zenith between the mid-19th century and the 1950s. As early as 1844, palace steamers carried passengers and cargo around the Great Lakes. By 1900, fleets of relatively luxurious passenger steamers plied the waters of the lower lakes, especially the major industrial centers of Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Toronto.
The first steamboat on the Great Lakes was the passenger carrying Walk-In-The-Water, built in 1818 to navigate Lake Erie. It was a success and more vessels like it followed. Steamboats on the lakes grew in size and number, and additional decks were built on the superstructure to allow more capacity. This inexpensive method of adding capacity was adapted from river steamboats and successfully applied to lake-going craft.