In the 18th and early 19th centuries, simple sharp-barbed harpoons on long wooden shafts were used to “dart” or fasten to the whales from whaleboats. Two darts were thrown, in case one broke loose. Then, sometime in the early 19th century, the toggle iron was developed, possibly by African American blacksmith Lewis Temple in New Bedford, MA.
Once embedded in the whale’s flesh, the sharp point of a toggle iron rotated, or toggled sideways, making it harder to pull out. Normally, at least six sharp darting irons were carried aboard individual whaleboats to ensure that lost or broken ones could be replaced without returning to the mother ship.
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