Founded near the site of the Baird and Bean lumber mill, Ludington became the largest town in Mason County. The Pere Marquette River watershed, which empties into Lake Michigan at Ludington, provided the sources of power and transportation for pine logs from a three-county area that were to be sawed at and shipped from Ludington. Ludington took its name from James Ludington, a mill owner who moved from Milwaukee to this site in 1859. In 1867 Ludington platted the town. It was incorporated in 1873. Ludington was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1872 and again in 1881. Lumbering brought growth and wealth to the community. The Pere Marquette Lumber Company, owned by James Ludington after 1869, was the largest lumber firm. Following lumbering came a successful transition to industry, agriculture, and tourism. Since 1942 Dow Chemical Company has pumped brine from salt wells and extracted magnesium on the site of the former Morton Salt Company. Several of the grand houses on Ludington Avenue have found new use as bed-and-breakfasts and as offices.
In 2007 the city acquired the square pyramidal steel-framed and -clad Ludington North Pierhead Light (1924) and in 2010 it acquired the former U.S. Coast Guard Station for reuse as a maritime museum. In spring, summer, and fall the 410-foot-long SS Badger (1952) carries passengers and cars from the Ludington Dock at 701 Maritime Drive across Lake Michigan between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a journey that takes four hours. Charles Conrad of Holland purchased the car ferry and put it back in service as a nonrailroad car ferry in 1992. The Pere Marquette Railroad once operated railroad car ferries between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The ferries were adapted to carry automobiles and passengers, then discontinued.
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