Half Model, Fishing Schooner Helen B. Thomas

Unlike most of the half-hull models in the Smithsonian’s National Watercraft Collection, this one was not intended for use in shipbuilding. Instead, this half model of the fishing schooner Helen B. Thomas was made to show a radical design innovation to potential vessel owners. Its maker, Thomas F. McManus, a naval architect in Boston, adapted an idea from sailing yachts to the fishing schooners of New England. He eliminated the bowsprit, the spar projecting forward from the schooner’s bow, in an attempt to make the vessel safer for the fishermen working in treacherous conditions far offshore. In McManus’s new design, fishermen would not have to clamber out on the bowsprit to tend the jib (the vessel’s forward-most sail), a dangerous task especially in bad weather that, in McManus’s view, resulted too often in injury or death.
McManus made this half-hull model and displayed it in his Boston office, hoping to attract a client. After nearly a year, Capt. William Thomas of Portland, Maine, decided to try the design and contracted with the Oxner & Story yard in Essex, Mass., to build the schooner. The Helen B. Thomas was launched in 1902 and measured 106’-7” overall, with a beam (width) of 21’-6” and 13’ deep. The vessel became a successful fishing schooner. While no other schooners were built to this exact design, many were built without the bowsprit, a schooner design that became known as the “knockabout.”
Object Name
ship model, schooner
schooner, half-model
fishing schooner, half-model
half model, fishing schooner
date made
Associated Date
early 20th century
ship built from model design
Captain who contracted the design
Thomas, William
contractors who built the ship
Oxner & Story
McManus, Thomas F.
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall: 9 1/4 in x 32 in x 3 1/4 in; 23.495 cm x 81.28 cm x 8.255 cm
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Associated Place
United States: Massachusetts, Gloucester
United States: New England
Atlantic Ocean
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
On the Water exhibit
The Development of the Industrial United States
The Emergence of Modern America
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Capt. Thomas F. McManus, Naval Architect, Boston, Massachusetts
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

Visitor Comments

11/2/2012 1:45:09 PM
Markus Breitenberger
Hello, What happened with the Helen B Thomas, did the vessel sink or was it abondoned? If known, when and under what conditions did this happen? Thank you in advance, Best regards, Markus Breitenberger
7/18/2016 3:24:31 PM
Edmund Fox
The Helen was bought to Bermuda and commissioned as a pilot boat. She was sunk to extinguish a fire ruled to be result of arson in 1925. She belonged to Pilot Albert 'Cressie' Fox of St.Davids.Bermuda, my great grandfather. You can read about the H.B.T. in Bermuda National Library Digital Collection Royal Gazette.. I am compiling an album with info on the HBT. aRegards
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