On the Water

Whaler's Allen's Gun Harpoon

In the later 19th century, guns with explosive charges shooting the harpoons took the place of hand tools for catching and killing whales. They were much safer, for they could be shot at a whale from greater distances than a hand lance could be applied. They also penetrated the whale’s skin deeper and were harder for the animal to dislodge.

Gun harpoons were also far more efficient, for the steam whalers could approach the prey directly and did not need labor-intensive whaleboats and their highly trained crews any longer.

Designed to be fired from a shoulder gun, this nonexplosive style of harpoon was invented by Oliver Allen of Norwich, Conn. to fasten to whales prior to killing.

ID Number:
Allen, Oliver
Place Made:
New Bedford, Massachusetts
metal, iron
45 in x 4 in x 4 in; 114.3 cm x 10.16 cm x 10.16 cm
U.S. Fish Commission through J. T. Brown

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