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The Most Famous Shipwrecks in American History

Updated on August 4, 2009

The Most Famous Shipwrecks in American History

While the United States remains a relatively young country compared to many others in the world, we have our fair share of history. One of the more interesting aspects of history is mysteries and solving them. I consider historic shipwrecks to be of great interest and historical value because of the story behind each lost ship. Below are the five most famous shipwrecks in American history. All of them are located somewhere around the country and there is an interesting story behind each one.

1) U.S.S. Arizona

-In my opinion, the U.S.S. Arizona is the most famous American shipwreck in history. It did not carry gold or jewels and was not lost out at sea. It was an American battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack that sparked World War II on December 7, 1941. Some 1,177 lives were lost as a Japanese bomb tore through the ship and into the munitions hold. The bomb then detonated and set off a massive explosion inside the ship sinking it quickly. The wreckage is still on the bottom of Pearl Harbor and a national monument was built over the wreckage, which is visited by some 1.5 million tourists every year.

2) S.S. Andrea Doria

- The Andrea Doria is not an American ship, but rather an Italian one. However it was sunk off the coast of Massachusetts. The ship was the grandest passenger ship following World War II and made transatlantic crossings still, as people were still not yet used to airplanes. On July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria collided with the M.S. Stockholm off of Nantucket, Massachusetts. The Stockholm received minor damage, but the Andrea Doria was fatally wounded on its side. Some 46 people died on the ship, but many lives were saved because of the massive rescue effort.

3) S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

- The Edmund Fitzgerald was a large cargo ship that sailed throughout the Great Lakes in the 1960’s and 1970’s. On November 10, 1975, the Fitzgerald sunk in Lake Superior during a massive storm. The cause of the sinking has been a mystery that has not fully been resolved, but experts believe that hatches not being properly closed are the likely culprit. The ship is located in 530 feet of water and some 29 sailors lost their life.

4) S.S. Republic

- The Republic was a passenger ship sailing from New York to New Orleans carrying some 100 passengers and $400,000 in currency designed to help reconstruct the south, following the Civil War. The Republic ran into a hurricane off the coast of Georgia and sank on October 25, 1865. The majority of the passengers were saved, but the coins were lost to the sea. In August 2003, the Republic was found 100 miles off the coast of Georgia in 1700 feet of water. Salvagers managed to bring up 51,000 coins, roughly 1/3 of what the ship was carrying. Today, the coins are worth more than $75 million.

5) S.S. Central America

- The Central America was a passenger ship that was carrying several hundred passengers and 30,000 pounds of gold. In September 1857, the Central America ran into a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas going from the Panamanian city of Colon to New York City. The majority of the people and gold on board were products of the California Gold Rush. The ship was old and sank suddenly in the storm. Some 400 passengers died and all of the gold was lost. Due to the loss of such a large quantity of gold, the shipwreck sparked the economic Panic of 1857 over gold shortage fears. The wreck was discovered in 1987 and the gold recovered was worth an estimated $100-$150 million.

Our history is rich with such accounts, but these five are the most famous shipwrecks in American history. They make the cut because of the loss of life, the loss of treasure, or the tragic story behind each one.


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    • profile image

      Susie Willard 

      7 months ago

      Titanic is right up there ! Saw the Bell from Edmunds Fitzgerald

      At the Maritime Museum and Artifacts . Still a Mystery ?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      What about the titanic in pretty sure that's famous!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      River boats are also important American ship wrecks. The steamboat Sultana went down following a boiler explosion April 27, 1865, killing over 1700 (many of them former Union soldiers being returned from Confederate POW camps). The steamboat Arabia hit a snag in the Missouri River, sank, and the wreck was eventually buried by the shifting river. The wreckage has been uncovered, salvaged, and a wonderful musuem now exists in Kansas City, MO. This musuem provides an excellent look at the typical river boat carrying freight and passengers on the river.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i loved reading about the titanic it was awesom

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Gorden Lightfoot gave the best and most accurate account of details known in regards to the edmond fitzgerald.Very erie song when you listen to the words as well as the music itself.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting website for shipwreck stories...!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What about the Battleship Maine, sunk in Havana Harbor

      during the Spanish-American war.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The Edmund Fitzgerald ranks as the top wreck of all time in my opinion. No one really knows what happened out on Superior that day, but it was a terrible tragedy for all of the Maritime Sailors and their families. She looks good for being underwater for 34 years. It is a shame we can't raise her and find out exactly what sank this massive ship. I think, maybe, it was a rogue wave.

    • profile image

      John Sumner 

      8 years ago

      Very interesting indeed. Thank you so much.

    • mquee profile image


      8 years ago from Columbia, SC

      Very good and original. I have heard of all of these ships and didn't know much about any of them.

    • mr. daydream profile image

      mr. daydream 

      8 years ago

      Good hub, spooky in it's on little way though.

    • Mit Kroy profile image

      Mit Kroy 

      9 years ago from Georgia,USA

      I like articles about shipwrecks and lost gold. One story about shipwrecks I was especially interested in was Mel Fisher's search and discovery of the "Atocha"; most of his story was in the book "They Found Treasure" by Robert F. Burgess.

      Great hub. Keep on hubbing!

    • Yard of nature profile image

      Yard of nature 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      I second the comment about Lee Murdock. He sings some wonderful tales of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. And there are still more shipwrecks to be found and stories to be shared.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Shipwrecks seem to have a mythology about them. If you are not familiar with the singer Lee Murdock, you might like him.

      He sings mostly about ships and and sailing.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      I enjoyed reading your article about these Shipwrecks. Very interesting. Well told.


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