Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor Sails Into 50th Anniversary of Grand Opening

A History of Record-breaking Numbers and Events

PORTAGE, Ind. – (July 17, 2020) – Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Opening of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, the beginning of an organization that connects America’s heartland to the world and provides a stimulus to the state’s economy.

Around the 1930s, various commercial groups and the state of Indiana came together in a concentrated effort to build a deep-water public port at or near the point where Burns Ditch, a drainage channel, enters Lake Michigan.

“It all really started to come together in 1961 when visionary leaders decided that Indiana should invest in freight transportation and develop an intermodal port,” said Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor Director Ian Hirt. “Since then, the port has far exceeded original expectations by generating significant economic rewards for Northwest Indiana and the entire state.”

According to the Ports of Indiana records, the Great Lakes had just opened to international ships via St. Lawrence Seaway and the “port issue” was a hotly debated topic. Indiana Governor Matt Welsh and state leaders determined an organization with greater authority than the Indiana Board of Public Harbors and Terminals was needed to develop the state’s first port. In 1961, the group was succeeded by the Indiana Port Commission, known today as the Ports of Indiana.

Over the course of 30 years, the commission constructed and now operates three public ports – Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan; Mount Vernon (1976) and Jeffersonville (1985) on the Ohio River.

The vision of the first port became reality in 1965 when Indiana Governor Roger Branigin and the Indiana General Assembly secured $35 million in funding over three years, which quickly proved to be a perfect fit for the Region. It took most of the decade to establish, construct and develop the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, which opened in July 1970.

“We are so proud to be one of the original companies to call the port home,” said Dan Frick, Owner of Frick Services. “From the very beginning, the port’s synergies have served our family business and customers with the fullest satisfaction. The entire operation has contributed to our success.”

The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor has nearly 600 acres of land and 30 port companies, including 15 steel-related companies and three steel mills. The port handles about 9,000 rail cars, 75 ships, 350,000 trucks, 375 barges and 200 Great Lakes vessels a year.

Indiana’s public port system generates 60,000 jobs and $7.8 billion of total economic activity a year. Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor accounts for 30,000 jobs and contributes $4.8 billion in economic activity to the local economy each year.

Here are some milestones in the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor history:

2019: The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor hosts Indiana’s first U.S. Navy vessel commissioning ceremony for USS Indianapolis.

2017: Considered a landmark year for Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor: The port receives congressional support for nearly $20 million infrastructure expansion, one of only 10 “FASTLANE” small project grants in the year; handles an 8 percent increase in cargo shipments; doubles the size of its bulk terminal; attracts a nationally-renowned stevedore in Metro Ports.  

2016: Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor handles nearly 2.6 million tons of cargo, completing the highest three-year total in the port’s history.

2014: The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor receives Green Marine certification, a voluntary environmental compliance program.

2010: The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor handles largest project cargo shipment to date: 134 wind turbines on 11 ships.

2003: The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor ships 50-millionth ton since opening in 1970. (November)

1999: Federal Marine Terminals/Fednav moves their Fednav Atlantic Lakes Line (FALLine) division from Chicago at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

1995: A $13 million project begins at Burns Harbor to redesign the breakwater and create a new underwater segmented reef to reduce wave force on the breakwater. (June)

1980: Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor celebrated its tenth anniversary as an operating Great Lakes port. Its facilities were extensive, the traffic generated was growing and various plans for expansion were underway.

1979: Cargill Inc., a grain trader and food processing company, breaks ground on a $21 million grain elevator at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor with a 3.4 million bushel storage capacity that is capable of loading grain into ships for export to foreign markets.

1970: Hoosiers celebrate the official dedication of the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. Tours of the facilities are given by boat while a lucky few get to view the port from the Goodyear Blimp. (July)

1969: The Levy Co. of Detroit becomes the first port tenant at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

1969: The SS Lehigh, a Bethlehem Steel ore boat, becomes the first ship to use the Burns Harbor port. (September 11)

1966: The formal groundbreaking ceremony for Indiana’s first public port brings approximately 650 people from industry, labor and government to the Burns Harbor/Portage facility. (October 10)

1962: Bethlehem Steel opens a plant on Lake Michigan, next to what would become the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

1961: The Burns Ditch area in Porter County is formally selected as the site for Indiana’s first public port. (May 18)

Commissioners are sworn in at the first meeting of the Indiana Port Commission held at the Spa Restaurant in Porter County. (April 10)

Gov. Matthew Welsh and the Indiana General Assembly approve legislation establishing the Indiana Port Commission (now known as the Ports of Indiana), which replaces the Indiana Board of Public Harbors and Terminals. (March 2)

1959: Linking the Great Lakes to global markets, the completed St. Lawrence Seaway begins operation with more than 15 major ports on the Great Lakes.

1957: The Indiana General Assembly appropriates $2 million for land acquisition at the Burns Ditch area in Porter County.

1939: The Indiana Board of Public Harbors and Terminals (IBPHT) is established to negotiate with the government regarding land acquisition and construction of a public port.

1816: Before Indiana becomes a state, Congress moves the northern boundary 10 miles north into Lake Michigan, opening the option for a future port.


About the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor: The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor opened in 1970 and is operated by Ports of Indiana, a statewide port authority operating three ports on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. Established in 1961, the Ports of Indiana is a self-funded enterprise dedicated to growing Indiana’s economy by developing and maintaining a world-class port system. More Information: Follow us on Twitter: @PortsofIndiana.

Media Contact: Alicia Thomas,


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