Although the S.S. Badger has become popular with tourists traveling in recreational vehicles, cars (including vintage and classic models), motorcycles and bicycles, the ship has a long, proud tradition of transporting freight across Lake Michigan. Built in 1952 by the Christy Corp. of Sturgeon Bay, WI at a cost of $5 million, the Badger entered service on March 21, 1953, under the ownership of the C&O railroad.
TheBadger was designed specifically to handle rough conditions expected during year-round sailing on Lake Michigan. For decades, she primarily transported railroad freight cars, with Manitowoc, Kewaunee, and Milwaukee as her Wisconsin ports of call and Ludington as her Michigan port of call.
In 1983, the S.S. Badger, S.S. Spartan, and City of Midland were sold to the Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company. Unable to keep the ferries afloat with passenger and auto revenues, the new company filed for bankruptcy. On November 16, 1990, theBadger – the last of the Lake Michigan car ferries – set sail on what was expected might be her final trip, from Kewaunee to Ludington.
In 1991, Charles Conrad purchased the Badger,Spartan, and City of Midland. After being idle for a year and a half, the refurbished Badger resumed cross-lake service between Ludington, MI and Manitowoc, WI on May 18, 1992, under the new ownership of Lake Michigan Carferry Service. The Badger now operates with a new mission, offering passengers and their vehicles an optimal cruise experience and value. The goal was to blend tradition with innovation.
In 2003, the Badger was rechristened in honor of her 50th year in service. Today, she makes 492 crossings per season.