Steamer Columbia

The 1902 Buffalo – Detroit Rate War Between Steamships and the Railways

I ran across this piece in the Harbor Beach Times from July 1902. It highlights a rate war between the railroads and the steamships on excursions between Buffalo, New York, and Detroit, Michigan. It signals a sign that it’s the beginning of the end of steamship dominance on the Great Lakes in favor of railroads. Of course, it will only be a few short years before automobile travel dooms both forms of transportation. 

Detroit – Buffalo Rate War

Weekend Railroad Excursions Started It – Passenger Boat Men Accepted the Challenge.

Rates tees Than One Cent Per Mile Now Obtainable

Detroit to Buffalo Steamship Co Ad. - rate war

The promised rate War between the rail and lake lines operating between Detroit is now on in full blast, the opening gun having been fired Friday when the Detroit & Buffalo Steamboat Co. announced that it had established its first-class rate at exactly one-half of the second-class rail rate, thus making the rate by boat less than one: cent a mile, and allowing au first-class privileges.

The trouble between the rail and lake lines began when the rail line began to run weekend excursions to Buffalo, sell second-class tickets for $5, and then allowed first-class privileges, checked -baggage, and granting sleeping car privileges without restriction. 

D&B Cut Rates To Answer Challenge

General Passenger Agent A. A. Schantz of the Detroit & Buffalo line, when he learned of this, he then notified the passenger agents of the Grand Trunk, Wabash, and Michigan Central roads that unless some restriction was made, he would proceed to cut the rates, not only on weekend excursions but On regular traffic. He fixed a daily limit on this action, but the railroads could hot see the situation from his point of view and would not meet his proposition.

The. ten days expired on Friday, And the Detroit & Buffalo line at once inaugurated a $2.50 regular rate to Buffalo, a distance of 256 miles— less than a cent a mile, Mr. Schahtz said Friday that should the railroads want a rate war and meet the present cut he would come down another dollar and, if necessary, carry passengers from the Eastern States and the Western States for 50 cents. 

Weekend Tourist Excursions Between New York and Michigan

Speaking of the situation Friday, Schahtz said that the new Detroit and Buffalo boats were built for legitimate business, and they had created this mainly for the weekend excursions, something Which, until the new boats went on the run, had not existed between-the-two terminals

The new rate fixed by the Steamboat line will make a through rate to New York on all lines except the  New York Central, $10:50; Boston, $13:40; and Philadelphia, $10.40, with a special rate to eastern summer resorts: from Buffalo to Detroit $2.50, Saginaw $5.66, Bay City $5.96, Grand Rapids $7.09, and Chicago $8.59.

Source: Harbor Beach Times, July 25, 1902

Related Reading

The Side Wheeler Steamboats On Michigan’s Saginaw River – I ran across this advertisement for a side wheeler steamboats line running a route between Saginaw and Bay City. While information is scant, it does offer a little nugget of traveling by riverboat in Mid Michigan in the 1870s.

Steamer B.F. Ferris Burned In Caseville 1891 – On July 29, 1891, the Port Huron Daily Times published this short account. “The steamer B.F. Ferris, plying between Tawas and Caseville, burned at her dock in the port of Caseville Saturday night. The crew barely escaped with their lives.

Great Lakes Cruising History – 100 Luxurious Years Of Travel – In the days before the highway and autos, the only way to travel the vast distances for the Great Lakes was by sail and steamer. In the mid-1800s until well into the 1950s one could travel most of the lakes in style and comfort. One of the most famous and beloved ships was the SS South American.

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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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