The Story of J.W. Westcott
Established in 1874, the J.W. Westcott story actually begins December 19, 1848, when John Ward Westcott was born into a prominent Michigan shipping family. John’s father, David H. Westcott worked as a fireman. Ward also founded Ward’s Central and Pacific Lake Line and Ward’s Detroit and Lake Superior Line. Westcott’s brothers were also involved in various shipping careers.
But it was John, who made the biggest impact on the Great Lakes. As a boy, he worked in his father’s boat yard and later as a cabin boy. Then, at age 20, John earned his master’s papers, becoming (at the time) the youngest captain on fresh water.
As a Master, Westcott understood the challenges that shipping vessels faced and was determined to improve navigation on the lakes and developed what was to become his legacy.
Westcott knew that shipping companies kept their destinations closely guarded. So much so, that usually, even the ship’s masters were unaware of where their journeys would end. This posed a major problem, since conditions could change on a moment’s notice. Ports might be congested, unloading equipment could break down or a company’s ore supply might become low.
John had the idea of a marine reporting agency that would transmit destination and dock information to passing vessels. From his dock on Belle Isle, Westcott would row out to passing boats. A rope and bucket would be thrown over the sides of the visiting ship and he would place messages in the bucket, which was quickly hoisted back up—thus the phrase, “mail in the pail.”
Over the years, the business grew and services expanded. In 1948, J.W. Westcott became an official U.S. Postal Service mail boat, eventually earning the world's first floating postal ZIP code—48222.
Today, J.W. Westcott continues to serve the Great Lakes marine community providing everything from the obvious to the ridiculous and everything in between.