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.

Collected: United States: Massachusetts, New Bedford

Subject: WhalingFishingRelated Event: Expansion and ReformCivil War and ReconstructionThe Development of the Industrial United States


See more items in: Work and Industry: Maritime, Work, Industry & Manufacturing, Transportation

Exhibition: On the Water

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Related Web Publication: http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater

Related Publication: On the Water online exhibition

Credit Line: J. H. Bartlett & Son

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: TR.072824BCatalog Number: 072824BAccession Number: 10616

Object Name: harpoonOther Terms: harpoon; Maritime

Physical Description: metal (overall material)wood (overall material)rope (overall material)Measurements: overall: 97 1/4 in; x 247.015 cmharpoon: 33 3/4 in; x 85.725 cmtoggle: 7 5/8 in; x 19.3675 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a6-8c6b-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_844151

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