Manitowoc Harbor is located in Wisconsin on the western shores of Lake Michigan, and it is part of the Lake Michigan and Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway waterway system. Manitowoc Harbor is about 70 nautical miles (120 kilometers or 75 miles) north of the Port of Milwaukee and about 160 nautical miles (270 kilometers or 165 miles) north of the Port of Chicago. Seat of Manitowoc County, Manitowoc Harbor sits at the mouth of the Manitowoc River as it flows into Lake Michigan. The 2010 US Census reported a population of over 33.7 thousand in Manitowoc Harbor and some 50 thousand living in the neighboring towns.
Early Manitowoc Harbor grew out of shipbuilding, and the town grew to support diverse manufacturing, construction, and food services. Manitowoc Harbor is home to the country's oldest yacht builder, Burger Boat Company. Lakeside Foods Company and Bio-Blend Fuels are headquartered in Manitowoc Harbor.
The area that would become Manitowoc Harbor was home to Algonquin-speaking peoples of the Ottowa, Menomonee, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe tribes. Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Stanley were the first white settlers in the Manitowoc Harbor area in 1820. Land sales in the region were first authorized by President Andrew Jackson in 1835 when William Jones and Louis Fizette became the first land buyers. Benjamin Jones, brother of William, is considered to be the founder of Manitowoc Harbor. In 1851, Manitowoc Harbor was chartered as a village, and it was incorporated as a city in 1870.
Joseph Edward built a schooner in Manitowoc Harbor in 1847, making the way for a shipbuilding industry that made vessels used for trade and fishing in the Great Lakes. The Manitowoc Harbor shipbuilding industry contributed tankers, submarines, and landing craft during World War II.
For centuries, fisheries in Manitowoc Harbor and Two Rivers supported the indigenous people. The fisheries also attracted French Canadians and other fishermen. Fur traders originally designed mackinaws, two-person boats used for fishing. As fishing became an important local industry, larger boats became necessary.
William Wallace Bates is recognized for creating the shipbuilding center of Manitowoc Harbor on the Great Lakes. He designed the Great Lakes Clipper schooner that could navigate the shallow waters at the mouth of the rivers flowing into Lake Michigan. Many skilled workers came to work in his shipyard from Norway, Germany, Bohemia, Poland, and Ireland.
During the 1860s, Milwaukee boat builder Henry Burger established the Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc Harbor to build steamers and schooners. His nephew started a second branch of the company to make smaller craft that were powered by Kahlenberg gas engines. The Burger Boat Company still operates in Manitowoc Harbor, producing custom yachts.
Manitowoc Harbor's shipbuilding industry supported the growth of manufacturing industries. In 1893, Joseph Koenig established a company that made products like aluminum combs, collapsible cups, and cigar boxes. Henry Vits established The Manitowoc Aluminum Novelty Company that merged with Koenig's company into The Aluminum Goods Manufacturing Company (called "The Goods" by locals) that launched the Mirro brand, one of the United States' biggest aluminum cookware companies. The Goods became a major player in the production of Teflon cookware, changing its name to the Mirro Aluminum Company. Newell Rubbermaid Companies bought Mirro Aluminum in 1983 and moved its operations outside the United States.
World War II brought changes to Manitowoc Harbor. Burger Boat made wooden submarine chasers, and The Goods produced a range of military items. The Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company was hired to build 28 submarines, producing the USS Petro well ahead of schedule. After the war ended, the company made large freighters. However, the ships were too big for the shipyard in Manitowoc Harbor, and the company had to move to Sturgeon Bay where it began to make ice machines and cranes under the name The Manitowoc Company.