At the overall height of the whaling industry in 1846, the American fleet of ships, barks, schooners and brigs numbered 742 vessels. At its height in 1856 the New Bedford fleet numbered 329 vessels. It employed tens of thousands of people and was worth hundreds of millions of dollars in ships, outfits and cargo.
The bulk of their returns were in sperm oil, almost 40,000 barrels, worth over one million dollars. Processing the blubber of a single whale took one to three days and our collection is rich with the artifacts of this laborious process. Cutting spades, blubber hooks, boarding and mincing knives, pikes, trypots, bailers, strainers, and casks illustrate the different jobs assigned on-board once a whale was caught.
Above photograph, movie still from "Down to the Sea in Ships", Testing oil, c. 1922
Want to learn more?
Here are some additional resources: