Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type

Honors Project


College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Nurith Zmora


In 1870 two towns emerged on the northwestern head of Lake Superior. Both sought to take advantage of the only sandy and protected bay on the great northern lake. Superior WI, on the southern end of the bay, was situated at the only natural entrance to the harbor. In the fall of 1870 the residents of Duluth, MN, located on the northern Minnesotan shore, began digging a canal to rival Superior’s entrance. The result was a dispute between the two towns that lasted several years. Both towns fought tirelessly to fulfill what they saw as their destiny to become the region’s major port. The goal of this research is to investigate how Duluth, lacking all the natural advantages of its rival, managed to wrestle its destiny from Superior to become the world’s largest inland port. The dispute has been detailed by local historians’ numerous times, but mostly as a regional curiosity. By examining government documents, including Congressional transcripts and court cases, as well as the writings of influential businessmen and politicians, this research places the dispute in the larger context of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. These documents show that the digging of the canal was more than just the triumph of frontier pioneers, it was an event bolstered by the radical faction of the Republican Party in an attempt to meet their long-term geo – political goals. This is significant in that the radical faction of the Republican Party has long been viewed as corruption free. By examining the Duluth Canal dispute, this research challenges that perception.








Departmental Honors Projects