Arnold Transit Company

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Passenger and freight ferry line operating on the Straits of Mackinac.

From the description of Arnold Transit Company records, 1863-1973. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 244825379

In the late nineteenth century, George T. Arnold and his partners, Francis B. Stockbridge and O.Q. Johnson founded the Mackinac Lumber Company. The timing was fortuitous: the straits were a place of growth that manifested itself in new business ventures, shops, homes along the bluffs of Mackinac Island and the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Arnold knew he would need reliable marine transportation to facilitate this growth, so in 1878 he formed--with L.B. Coats--the Arnold and Coats Ferry Line. This first company struggled through 1909, but saw little profit. After raising more stock to purchase the Iroquois and Chippewa, (adding to the ships the Algomah and the Perry ) he started the Arnold Transit Company.

Passenger-line travel hit its peak around 1900, especially with travel to and from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the popularity of the nearby Les Cheneaux Islands as a resort area. When George Arnold died in 1921, Otto W. Lang arrived from Chicago to audit the company's books, and would prove to be an integral part of the company.

Mrs. Arnold then asked a local attorney, Prentiss M. Brown, Sr. to assist with the handling of the boat company's affairs. When Mrs. Arnold died a few years later, the Arnold heirs were ready to sell their interests in the ferry line. Lang and Brown wanted to keep the entire operation together, and so they bought out the interests in 1935.

Right around this time was a combination of events that led to the downfall of passenger shipping. Strict Congressional regulations on shipping were passed in response to the burning of the Morro Castle on the east coast in which many passengers perished. The use of the automobile and increased highway travel reduced demand on ship travel, and the Great Depression forced many of the larger companies into bankruptcy. During this time, Lang and Brown, started the Union Terminal Piers that owned three-fourths of the Arnold Transit Company.

Despite all of these debilitating factors, the Arnold Transit Company managed to stay financially viable, mainly due to the consistent tourist trade of Mackinac Island. After World War II, the company faced major competition from competing lines. Lang and Brown replaced their labor-intensive steamers with diesel-powered boats, operated by five people. By 1963, Arnold Line had seven of these smaller, and more efficient boats crossing the straits in 30-35 minutes.

With the opening of the Mackinac Bridge connecting the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan in 1957, more people traveled north to vacation. While some enjoy a leisurely crossing the straits, there was an increasing demand for faster and smoother boats. The Arnold Company responded in 1987 when it introduced the first passenger-carrying catamaran to the Great Lakes.

In 1974, Lang retired and shared his shares to the remaining Brown children. More than eighty years after their initial purchase, Prentiss Brown's sons, daughters and grandchildren still own and operate the company.

From the guide to the Arnold Transit Company records, 1854-1987, 1900-1970, (Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Miscellaneous photographic collection, 1901,1918. Clarke Historical Library
creatorOf Arnold Transit Company records, 1854-1987, 1900-1970 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Prentiss Marsh Brown Papers, 1902-1973 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Arnold Transit Company. Arnold Transit Company records, 1863-1973. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Ann Arbor Railroad Company. Trade catalogs of travel, [1853?]-1951. University of California, Santa Barbara, UCSB Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Brown, Prentiss Marsh, 1889-1973 person
associatedWith Mackinac Bridge Authority (Mich.) corporateBody
associatedWith Mackinac Island Park and Harbor Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Michigan. Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority. corporateBody
associatedWith Michigan. Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority. corporateBody
associatedWith Union Terminal Piers (Firm) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Mackinac Island (Mich.)
Mackinac Island (Mich.)
Michigan--Mackinac, Straits of
Ferries--Michigan--Mackinac Island
Ferries--Michigan--Mackinac, Straits of

Corporate Body

Active 1853

Active 1951



Ark ID: w67q5bbr

SNAC ID: 42058119