Hand Lance or Killing Iron

A hand lance with a long iron shaft and a small oval or leaf-shaped tip was also known as a killing iron. It was designed to dispatch a whale quickly and efficiently, once the mammal came to the water surface for the last time.
The hand lance was stabbed repeatedly into a whale’s thick neck arteries. The sharp leaf-shaped tip allowed easy removal for another thrust. Cutting these arteries prevented the whale from deep dives and hastened its bleeding to death.
Normally, multiple hand lances were carried aboard a whaleboat, so that if one was lost it could be easily replaced without returning to the mother ship for a spare one. By the late 19th century, guns had replaced most hand-thrown harpoons and lances. They were more efficient, more accurate, and safer, for a whaler could shoot a dart at a greater distance from the dangerous whale than a harpoon could be thrown.
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
pole: 66 3/4 in; 169.545 cm
lance: 63 in; 160.02 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
J. H. Bartlett & Son
related event
Expansion and Reform
Civil War and Reconstruction
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Fisheries
Industry & Manufacturing
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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