Whaler's Hand Lance

After harpoons fastened the whale and whaleboat together, a whale was given plenty of time and rope to dive, try to swim away, and otherwise wear itself out. Once the exhausted animal returned to the surface to breathe, the whaleboat approached it, and a hand lance, also known as a killing iron, was used to actually dispatch the animal.
Hand lances had long shafts, to allow the point to penetrate deep into the whale’s body in search of the thick neck arteries. The tips of the killing irons were leaf or oval shaped and extremely sharp, so that they cut on the way in and on the way out, and were easier to remove and stab repeatedly. Cutting the neck arteries prevented the animal from deep diving and hastened its bleeding to death.
This nickel-plated example was manufactured and donated by Luther Cole of Fairhaven, Mass.
Object Name
harpoon, spear-type
Date made
Cole, Luther
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
nickel-plated (overall material)
overall: 70 3/8 in; x 178.7525 cm
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Fairhaven
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
related event
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Fisheries
Cultures & Communities
Industry & Manufacturing
Natural Resources
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
U.S. Fish Commission through Luther Cole
Brown, James Temple. The Whale Fishery and Its Appliances
Related Publication
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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