Charles Conrad (1917 - 1995)
Founder, Lake Michigan Carferry Service, Inc.
In 1991, Charles Conrad - a Ludington native and retired entrepreneur - risked his own money to rescue a bankrupt Great Lakes icon. Through his leadership and courageous commitment of financial resources, the S.S. Badger was reinvented as a passenger and auto ferry, and has sailed more than ten years without government subsidies as a shining example of an American free enterprise success story.
1935 Conrad graduated from Ludington High School and started out as an air conditioning repairman; then joined Koldhold Manufacturing Company, where he designed and built environmental simulation chambers. The test chambers, used by researchers to examine how airplane components would function in extreme temperatures, were critical to aviation during World War II.
After the war Conrad started Conrad Refrigeration, an air-conditioning and refrigeration business in Holland, Michigan. He formed Conrad Inc. to build test chambers for precision aviation parts, and among his numerous refrigeration patents he developed a freezer capable of reaching a then unprecedented 250 degrees below zero, furthering ultra-cold system design for environmental simulation and cryogenics applications.
1960 Conrad founded Thermotron Industries to build advanced test chambers used by contractors to the national space program. Starting out as the lone employee working on a shoestring budget, Conrad built Thermotron into a corporation employing more than 500 people. The devices he developed at Thermotron were used to test components in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs as well as other applications.
1980 Conrad sold Thermotron. Rather than retire, the entrepreneur purchased four Ludington-area resorts that were in need of updating and renovation. Five years and $1 million in renovations later, Conrad sold the thriving resorts to pursue other interests.
1989 Along with Lt. Colonel Matt Urban (a highly decorated soldier awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor), Conrad co-authored The Matt Urban Story-The Hero We Never Forgot
July 1991 After Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company ceased car ferry operations in 1990, Conrad risked his own money and purchased the S.S. Badger, its sister ship the Spartan and the City of Midland to form Lake Michigan Carferry Service. It was a fitting return to a boyhood love. Conrad, the son of a chief engineer for the former Pere Marquette Railway, accompanied his father on many cross-lake trips as a youth and grew to love the car ferries along the way.
May 1992 The refurbished Badger was ready to set sail again. Fulfilling her new mission as a passenger and auto vessel, she ferried 115,000 passengers and 34,000 vehicles between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin in her first season.
Conrad remained active in the day-to-day operation of the company until his death in February 1995. "I always believed that the ferries would be forever a part of Ludington. They've been on the Lake for the past hundred years, and I want to do whatever I can to ensure they'll be running for the next hundred," said Conrad.