The American Ship Building Company built ships for use on the Great Lakes during the first half of the 20th century. One of those ships was the Seeandbee, a coal fired, side-wheel excursion steamer built in 1913.
In the spring of 1942 the U.S. Navy acquired the ship and converted it into an aircraft carrier. They sailed it on Lake Michigan, with a small group of supporting ships, a freighter that had a crane to pick downed aircraft, and some smaller vessels to rescue the pilots. The carrier was designated the U.S.S. Wolverine.
Used throughout the war to carrier qual new Navy pilots, the ship was eventually joined by a second converted steamer, the U.S.S. Sable. They had some limitations. They burned coal, trailing big plumes of smoke as they steamed at their best speed for flight operations. They didn’t make enough speed to launch airplanes on calm days, needing a breeze to sail into to allow launches. The decks were only 28 feet above the waterline, meaning that the launched airplanes dipped alarmingly close to the water on takeoff. They also had no hanger deck, so the planes took off and landed with all the other aircraft staged on deck.
They were berthed in Chicago. A town that a lot of sailors remember as a great place for liberty during the war.
There is a museum for the Glenview Air Station. Here’s a slide show of flight operations on Lake Michigan. Those ships are gone, sold for scrap right after the war. But in their day they trained almost 18,000 Navy and Allied pilots, and launched and recovered 116,000 flights.
I remember those Great Lakes flights very well in the open cockpit that winter. Coldest I ever was in my life.
–President George H.W. Bush, reflecting on his training as a Navy pilot