New England Whale Ship

This model represents a typical Massachusetts whaleship of the mid-19th century, fully rigged and ready for a long cruise that might last for as much as four years. The name “U.S. Grant, Edgartown” on the ship’s stern is fictional—no ship by that name ever sailed for the whaling fleet. The ship’s bottom is lined with copper sheathing, to keep out the teredo navalis, a tropical worm that bored into the wood of ship’s hulls and weakened the structure, as the termite does to wooden structures on land.
The whaleboats are the most prominent features. After whales were sighted by lookouts perched at the mast tops, the boats were dropped over the sides of the mother ship to chase them. Also over the side are the cutting stages, where the whale’s fat, or blubber, was sliced off the body in long strips.
The main feature on the ship’s deck is the try-works, or giant pots set into a brick framework, where the whale’s blubber, was boiled down into oil. After the blubber became liquid, it was drawn off to cool and then poured into heavy barrels and stored below in the ship’s cargo hold.
This model was purchased in 1875 at Edgartown, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; it was one of the first objects in the Smithsonian’s National Watercraft Collection.
Object Name
ship model
model, ship
rigged model, ship
Date made
model was purchased
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall: 30 in x 52 in x 22 in; 76.2 cm x 132.08 cm x 55.88 cm
bowsprit: 18 in; x 45.72 cm
mainmast: 30 in; 76.2 cm
model was purchased
United States: Massachusetts, Martha's Vineyard, Edgartown
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Natural Resources
On the Water exhibit
The Development of the Industrial United States
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
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

Visitor Comments

3/18/2015 3:12:16 PM
Randolph Hutto
About how many barrels of oil could a typical New England whaling ship carry in its hold?
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