On May 31, 1917, one hundred years ago, a sailing ship named Dirigo was sunk by a German submarine off the southern coast of England. The sinking brought submarine warfare home to Louisville because the ship was owned by one of the city's largest manufacturing firms—C.C. Mengel & Brothers Co. The same company lost another sailing ship to U-Boats in 1918 off the Virginia coast.
According to the Courier-Journal, Dirigo sailed "under sealed orders from the British Admiralty.” Dirigo’s sinking helps us understand the vital role of international wartime commerce, rapidly changing technology, and wartime strategies. What was the cargo? What happened to the crew? And when did the paths of Dirigo and American novelist Jack London cross?
Mark Wetherington is the Senior Research Consultant at The Filson Historical Society. He received his B.A. and Master’s degrees in history at Georgia Southern and earned a Ph.D. in history in1985 from the University of Tennessee. He is the author of The New South Comes to Wiregrass Georgia, 1860 and Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Piney Woods, Georgia.
Photo: Mahogany mills, C.C. Mengel & Bros. Co., Louisville. Originally published by Detroit Publishing Company between 1910 and 1920. Photo obtained from the Library of Congress.