Nathanael Herreshoff

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Nathanael Herreshoff
Born March 18, 1848 (1848-03-18)
Bristol, Rhode Island
Died June 2, 1938 (1938-06-03)
Bristol, Rhode Island
Occupation naval architect-mechanical engineer
Known for designing motor and sailing yachts, but especially America's Cup defenders between 1893-1920
Spouse(s) Clara DeWolf
Ann Roebuck

Nathanael Greene Herreshoff (March 18, 1848 – June 2, 1938), was an American naval architect-mechanical engineer. "Captain Nat," as he was known, revolutionized yacht design, and produced a succession of undefeated America's Cup defenders between 1893–1920. The yachts he designed were the largest, most expensive and most powerful ever created to defend yachting's supreme prize.


Herreshoff (pronounced "Herres-hoff") was born in Bristol, Rhode Island, and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1870 with a 3-year degree in mechanical engineering. [1] After graduation, he took a position with the Corliss Steam Engine Company in Providence, Rhode Island. At the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he oversaw operation of the Corliss Stationary Engine, a 12-meter tall, 1400-horsepower dynamo that powered the exhibition's machinery. [2]

In 1888, tragedy struck while Herreshoff was supervising speed trials of a 42-meter, 650 kW (875 horsepower) steamboat named Say When. After a safety valve opened to release over-pressure, Herreshoff closed it so the boat could achieve its anticipated maximum speed. But a boiler exploded, fatally injuring a member of the crew. Consequently, Herreshoff lost his steam engineer's license. [3]

Following the accident, Herreshoff returned to Bristol where he and his older brother, John Brown Herreshoff, formed the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. While Captain Nat provided the engineering expertise, J.B., as his brother was known, contributed genius-level business acumen. Despite going blind at the age of 14, J.B. suffered under no handicap when it came to making deals. For example, he did all the cost calculations of building the boats, an extremely challenging but critical task under any circumstances, in his head. J.B. was responsible for negotiating with the firm's wealthy and demanding clientele, and was also a good manager, keeping up the enthusiasm of his employees. Under the partnership, the business burgeoned from about twenty employees to over 400.

While the firm's early work centered on steam-powered vessels, by the 1890s the Herreshoffs began focusing on the yacht designs that would win their firm world renown and earn Nat another sobriquet: "the Wizard of Bristol." Herreshoff Manufacturing built its reputation chiefly on the superbly crafted sailboats it produced for America's elite, including Jay Gould, William Randolph Hearst, John Pierpont Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, William Kissam Vanderbilt II, Harry Payne Whitney and Alexander Smith Cochran. [4]

The Herreshoffs resolved to turn out yachts of only the highest quality. To retain skilled craftsmen they paid among the highest wages in the state. This inducement to lure the most highly skilled workmen to the company may not have been strictly necessary as most who came simply wanted to be associated with the Herreshoff name, a symbol of the highest standards in construction and craftsmanship. Many of those men made lifelong careers at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.

Herreshoff is credited with being perhaps the most innovative sailboat designer of all time. His designs were notably graceful, scientifically engineered, and speedy. Because of his many accomplishments, Herreshoff was among the few people ever made an honorary member of the New York Yacht Club, his name being listed immediately before those of England's King George V and the Prince of Wales. His fame spread around the world and the period of his greatest activity from 1890 to 1920 became known as the "Herreshoff Era" so greatly did his personality and the yachts he designed dominate the sport.

File:NY 30.jpg
New York 30 class design
File:Reliance & Shamrock III.jpg
Reliance ahead of Shamrock III, Sir Thomas Lipton's 1903 America's Cup contender designed by William Fife

The range of boats drawn by Herreshoff was vast and eclectic. It included everything from the Bullseye, a 3-meter sailboat for training the children of yachtsmen, to the 44-meter America's Cup behemoth Reliance, with a sail area of 1600 m². [5] He received the first US patent for a sailing catamaran. Among Herreshoff's few technical failures was the 37-meter Defender --- its radical construction featured steel-framing, bronze plating up to the waterline and aluminum topsides. When placed in salt water, the then little-understood phenomenon known as galvanic corrosion immediately began "dissolving" the boat. Defender won the Cup race, but never competed again and was broken up in 1901.

Many of the 2,000-plus designs by the "Wizard of Bristol" have fared better, and today are highly prized by connoisseurs of classic yachts. Herreshoff S-Class sailboats, designed in 1919 and built until 1941, are still actively raced in Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay and Western Long Island Sound (Larchmont, New York). [6] His Bullseye design of 1914 is still being built and raced in New England as well.

A facility dedicated to the preservation of Herreshoff's legacy, the Herreshoff Marine Museum, now occupies the site where the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. formerly operated.

Herreshoff America's Cup designs

Herreshoff innovations

File:Herreshoff Torpedo Boat.jpg
Herreshoff torpedo boat, engraving from Harper's Weekly, June 1889
File:Yacht Defender.jpg
Nathanael Herreshoff climbing aboard Defender in 1895; photograph by John S. Johnston

During a career spanning 72 years, Herreshoff:

  1. Designed and built five winning America's Cup yachts. He could sail them as well, earning a reputation as a skilled helmsman. Additionally, his firm built the winning Cup yachts Enterprise - 1930, and Rainbow - 1934 (designed by Starling Burgess). Every winning America's Cup Yacht from 1893 to 1934 was built by the Herreshoff yard.
  2. Designed well over 2000 craft and produced more than 18,000 drawings. Between 1890 and 1938, the number of yachts he designed that won the Astor Cup, Puritan Cup and Kings Cup outnumbered the winning yachts of all rival yacht designers combined.
  3. Built the first torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy.
  4. Developed the first handicapping formula (the Herreshoff Rule) to allow yachts of different sizes and types to race together.
  5. Developed yacht scantlings (specifications) based on scientific load calculations; prior to Herreshoff, most yacht designers simply relied on traditional rules of thumb to determine the proper dimensions for planks, frames and rigs.
  6. Invented streamlined bulb and fin keels.
  7. Invented the sail track and slide in its present form along with many other patterns of marine hardware.
  8. Developed long overhangs on racing yachts that produced longer immersed waterlines, hence greater speed, when underway.
  9. Developed the first light steam engine and fast torpedo boats.
  10. Developed nearly all of the methods of constructing light wooden hulls.
  11. Introduced screw fastenings for planking to this country.
  12. Invented the crosscut sail, with panels running at right angles to the leech, in order to combat cotton canvas' tendency to distort under load.
  13. Designed more types of steam engines than anyone else.
  14. Designed the web frame and longitudinal construction for metal hulls afterward patented and known as the Isherwood System.
  15. Developed light hollow metal spars combined with scientifically engineered rigging.
  16. Developed the flat stern form of steam yachts capable of being driven at high speed/length ratios.
  17. Designed the first folding propeller.
  18. Designed below-deck winches - Reliance 1903.
  19. Developed the method of splicing rope to wire.
  20. Herreshoff yachts were the first to attach shrouds and stays to mast tangs.
  21. Invented the modern turnbuckle.
  22. Invented sail tracks on masts and slides attached to the luff of sails to ride in the tracks (up until then, sails had been attached with mast hoops or laced to masts).
  23. Invented the modern winch.
  24. Received the first U.S. patent on catamaran sailboats (the Amaryllis, 1876).



See also

External links

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