William Cavanagh, one of the best qualified and most prominent marine engineers sailing out of Milwaukee, was born in County Monaghan, Ireland, on August 2, 1845, son of Peter and Mary (McNeel) Cavanagh, both natives of the same county. They came to the United States in 1849, locating on a farm in Delaware county, Iowa, where they still live and where William was reared and educated. He remained at home until he reached the age of eighteen years, when he went to Delhi, Iowa, as an apprentice to the blacksmith trade with his uncle Patrick McNeel, remaining but a short time, however, as he went to Manchester to learn the machinist's trade with Mr. N. Denton.
Mr. Cavanagh commenced his career on the lakes as oiler on the side-wheel steamer City of Milwaukee, plying in connection with the Detroit and Milwaukee railroad, and was on her in November when she collided with and sank the Lac La Belle at South East Bend, St. Clair river, the purser and chief engineer drowning. In 1867 he was engineer of the steamer Mary, engaged in tugging out of Grand Haven. He then stopped ashore, becoming engineer of a sawmill at Port Sheldon, Mich., where he continued until the mill was destroyed by fire three years later, after which he went to Delhi and took charge of the machinery in a distillery. In 1875 he returned to Michigan and ran an engine in one of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railway Company's elevators three years, going thence to Grand Haven, where he became engineer of the tug Jerome. In 1879 he went to Pentwater to run the tug Messenger, following with a season in the steamer Trader. In 1881 he went to Manistee as engineer in Jimmerson, Dempsey & Co.'s sawmill, passing the next year as locomotive engineer on a thirty-five-mile track up the big Manistee, operated by Buckley & Douglas to haul their logs. That winter he was placed in charge of the steamfitting shop of H. Mee, at Manistee, and in the spring became engineer of the tug Crowell. Mr. Cavanagh passed the season of 1884 as engineer of the tug Albion, of Hamblen, Mich., the following spring joining the Ida M. Stevens, of Ludington, which he ran until May, 1886, when he was appointed chief engineer of the steamer Almendinger. In the spring of 1887 he joined the steamer City of New York as chief; 1888, the J. B. Ballentine; 1889, the Cuba, closing on the Campbell; 1890, the steamer Ionia. In October the Ionia, Captain Daniels, and Monteagle, Captain Griffin, came into collision three miles below Wauboshene, no lives being lost, however. In the spring of 1891, Mr. Cavanagh was given chief engineer's berth on the steamer Thomas Davidson, retaining that office two seasons, and in 1893 went on the passenger steamer City of Racine, plying between Chicago and Grand Haven, finishing the season in the steamer Progress. The following season he was in the Hattie B. Perew. Mr. Cavanagh then stopped ashore two years as engineer of the Arc Light Company of the city of Milwaukee, and in 1897 became engineer for the Wisconsin Milling Company, holding that position until September, 1898, when he joined the steamer Fred Pabst as chief engineer. He has had twenty-five issues of marine engineer's license, and had his license revoked for a year for acting as captain of the tug Messenger, owned by Jacob Fisher, of Pentwater. During his long career he has been usually successful with his machinery and has always enjoyed the confidence of his employers.
Socially, Mr. Cavanagh is a member of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, and has been twice elected to the office of vice-president of Milwaukee branch No. 9; he is also a member of the Royal Arcanum. On February 13, 1866, Mr. Cavanagh wedded Miss Ellen Maxwell, of Delaware county, Iowa, and the children born to this union are Mary Ellen, now the wife of James Wilson, a prominent druggist of Manistee, Mich.; Sarah J.; William, chief engineer of the steamer Columbia; John; Frank; James, engineer on the steamer Samoa, who took out license when he reached the age of twenty-one; Catherine, the wife of Mr. Schroeder, a merchant tailor; Peter, who married Mary Griffin, of Milwaukee; Ellen and Esther. The family homestead is at No. 779 Eleventh street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.