Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Great Lakes

May 4th, 2010 by Smithsonian Journeys
The American Falls of Niagara

The American Falls of Niagara

Those of us who grew up near the Great Lakes already know the basics.

They consist of Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan Ontario, and Superior. They provide 20% of the world’s fresh water, and are the largest grouping of freshwater lakes on the Earth’s surface. And, of course, the lake effect snow from these waterways create endless frustration every winter.

Then there are those of us who like to have a little more advanced knowledge…

  1. Lake Erie is the shallowest lake at 210 ft while Lake Superior is the deepest at 1,332 ft.
  2. Each lake has Native American roots to its name, except Lake Superior. While they are all either Ojibwe, Wyandot, or Iroquois names, Lake Superior is actually an English translation of French term “lac supérieur” (“upper lake”), referring to its position above Lake Huron. But the Ojibwe have their own name for it and call it “Gitchigumi.
  3. Travel through the Great Lakes began in 1844 and expanded in 1857, when palace steamers carried passengers and cargo around the Great Lakes. Tourism really picked up throughout the 20th century when large luxurious passenger steamers sailed from Chicago all the way to Detroit and Cleveland.
  4. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise, Michigan explores notable historic maritime sites ranging from the infamous SS Edmund Fitzgerald to recently discovered 1902 ship Cyprus – which sank on its second voyage carrying iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin to Buffalo, New York.
  5. The redheaded stepchild of the Great Lakes is Lake Champlain, which was briefly labeled as the sixth great lake by the Federal government on March 6, 1998. But after much media and public ridicule for being too small to be “Great,” the offer was rescinded on March 24, 1998.

Did you grow up near a Great Lake? What are your favorite memories? Share Below.

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One Response to “Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Great Lakes”

  1. Branson Traveler Says:

    While I didn’t grow up on a great lake, I had a bunch of family and friends who did. I remember being younger and thinking how remarkable and big they were, just like an ocean. I can’t remember which one it was, but remember swimming in one of them and the water was VERY cold – found that out quickly afterward when I jumped in without feeling the temperature!

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