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'Stood the test of time': SS Badger car ferry celebrates anniversary of first launch 70 years ago

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Posted at 9:56 PM, Sep 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-07 15:02:11-04

MANITOWOC, Wis. (NBC 26) — It's a floating National Historic Landmark.

And when the SS Badger car ferry comes into port, it can drop off 600 passengers in downtown Manitowoc.

"We meet it when it comes back in May," The Flower Gallery Operations Manager Patti Roth said. "We send it off when it leaves."

And many of those passengers become customers of local businesses.

"They actually will buy plants for the Badger, so I have some stories of those that have bought," Roth said.

Seventy years ago on Tuesday, the SS Badger car ferry launched into the water for the first time ever. Today, it travels between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc.

Roth says the boat has made the area more welcoming for visitors.

"I have seen a lot of improvements over the last ten years: signage, we have that great statue of the badger welcoming people, the bobber," she said.

"What's your favorite thing about the Badger?" we asked SS Badger Director of Marketing & Sales Shelby Soberalski. "Over the years, I've gotten to meet a lot of awesome, amazing people traveling who have wonderful stories to tell about their time on board," she said.

She says millions of people have set sail on the Badger, creating an extensive economic impact on both sides of Lake Michigan.

"She would carry different types of manufacturing goods: produce, canned goods, really anything that was manufactured in West Michigan, Northeast Wisconsin," Soberalski said.

It was originally built to carry railroad cars across the lake. Some people even moved to the area to work on it.

"You don't have to go far, especially in Ludington and Manitowoc, to find family members that their family settled in these areas because of all the jobs and everything going on," Soberalski said.

Today, the Badger has been upgraded to carry semis, motorcoaches, oversized loads and vehicles of every shape and size imaginable.

So far, it's stood the test of time.

"What a really cool connection between the two communities especially, but seeing that her history really does live on," Soberalski said.