Wisconsin pioneers of the 1830s and '40s--largely Irish, German and Scandinavian immigrants--came west on paddlewheel steamboats. They harvested lumber from Wisconsin forests and shipped it to Chicago and eastern markets in hundreds of specialized lumber schooners. Boat makers in Wisconsin ports such as Manitowoc, WI built the tall, wind-powered ships. Even after the rise of steam boats, these lumber schooners continued to sail into the 20th century, ‑-The Great Lakes Maritime History Project

Historian Rob Burg says the lumber Schooners had an "open hull, lacking any interior compartment below deck to allow cut lumber of all sizes to be loaded." Sheboygan City Historian Bill Wangerman says the 19th-century lake schooner was the 18-wheeler semitrailer truck of its day, and the Great Lakes was its super highway."

Between 1850 and 1875, Oshkosh lumber companies supplied Southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois via the Rock River.