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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.
Object Name
Other Terms
harpoon; Maritime
United States: Massachusetts, New Bedford
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
wood (overall material)
rope (overall material)
overall: 97 1/4 in; x 247.015 cm
harpoon: 33 3/4 in; x 85.725 cm
toggle: 7 5/8 in; x 19.3675 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
J. H. Bartlett & Son
Expansion and Reform
Civil War and Reconstruction
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Industry & Manufacturing
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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