Berlin City (1856)
Historic Image of the Berlin City. This is the only picture thought to exist of the vessel.
By The Numbers
Lives Lost
Depth (ft)
Service History

The Berlin City was built to make regular trips between Berlin and Oshkosh, transporting passengers and freight. The vessel would make this trip in three and a half hours. The vessel would also be used to transport bulk cargo like flour, wheat, and corn to Green Bay and would return with passengers and freight. The flour would often be removed to the steamer Michigan and the passengers and freight from the Michigan would be transferred onto the Berlin City and taken upriver. During its career, Berlin City was described at the as being very popular with tourists, "a tip top steamboat" that "could not be beaten on these waters." and the ride aboard was "one of the pleasantest that can be taken". The Berlin City was a favorite and the sound of its whistle was well known.

On 3 July 1857 the Berlin City was engaged in a race across Lake Buttes des Morts with its long time rival the steamer Pearl. The steamer was crossing a bar at the head of the Lake Butte des Morts where its boiler exploded. The upper works forward of the boiler were blown to pieces and a few holes were blown in her hull. The boiler was blown completely out of the boat and found "in the river some distance away.".The vessel sunk upon the shoal water of the bar in eight feet of water. Many passengers and crew were blown overboard and badly scalded, fortunately, the water was shallow. The explosion was so fast and violent, many aboard didn't even know what happened. The Pearl turned back to the wreck to pick up survivors. Afterwards a tug was dispatched to search for further victims and the Pearl later took the survivors to their intended port of Berlin. Five people lost their lives.

Afterwards the Berlin City was raised and repaired and sold to Tom Wall, Reuben Doud and John Lynch.

On 9 September 1858, the Berlin City ran upon a rock on the Fox River near Appleton. The vessel sank in eight feet of water. It was later was raised and repaired. By November the ship was back in operation and they were going to run the ship until it was frozen in.

On 2 April 1859 , the vessel would run between Neenah, Menasha, and Oshkosh until the locks opened. The vessel was overhauled earlier in the spring. Later in September 1859, Berlin City was laid up for the winter in Fon Du Lac due to low water.

On 9 March 1860 Berlin City left drydock after being replanked and refit. Sailed up the canal in Oshkosh to the "Old Dock" to be repainted. Later on 15 May, the vessel took 100 sacks of flour to Green Bay.

On 8 July 1861. The Berlin City stranded at Oshkosh

On 12 July 1861, a tornado had swept through Oshkosh damaging the Berlin City while it was docked, carrying away the smokestacks, pilothouse and upper cabins. The vessel would later be repaired.

On 18 June 1864, the Berlin City had brought down some 45 members of the Menominee Tribe recruited for the 37th Wisconsin Regiment then being mustered in Madison for the Civil War.

On 20 July 1865, The family of Governor Francis Harrison Pierpont, the Governor of the Restored Governement of Virginia arrived in Oshkosh and took the Berlin City to Winneconne. As his father in law was a reverand in Winneconne.

In 1867 the Berlin City was added to the Fox River Line.

By 1870 the Berlin City had been running on the Fox River for three seasons between Oshkosh and Berlin while also had making runs between Oshkosh and Green Bay.
Final Voyage

On 24 November 1870, the Berlin City was discovered to be on fire by the night watchman. The blaze was probably caused by the fire kept underneath the boilers (to keep them from freezing when not in use) and the wind sending sparks back to the stern of the boat.

Earlier that day, the Berlin City had been anchored in the Fox River near the boat yard since the vessel was to due to start its winter overhaul beginning the next day. Unfortunately, the Phoenix steam fire engine could not reach the boat out in the river with a stream of water. Therefore, a boat was sent out and the crew cut the anchor chain and the Berlin City drifted down river toward shore. The fire was extinguished after several hours work, but vessel had burnt to the waters edge.

Possibly, the damaged machinery and equipment was later salvaged.

The whistle was later pulled up by George Clark of Omro while fishing clams on the site of the wreck.

Most recently, a historic anchor was pulled out of the Fox River in Oshkosh in the vicinity of where the wreckage of the Berlin City is thought to be located.
© 2024 - Wisconsin Sea Grant, Wisconsin Historical Society