1878 John Brown Herreshoff, a blind boat builder from Bristol, Rhode Island, went into business with his younger brother, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, a naval architect and steam engineer. The name of their new firm was the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.
The partnership was an immediate and lasting success. The same love of competition and technological innovation that had made J.B. and Nat almost unbeatable when as boys they raced sailboats together on Narragansett Bay soon brought them fame as builders of some of the world's fastest steam yachts and torpedo boats. From the first, the Herreshoff Mfg. Co. was noted for the ingenuity and excellence of its designs and its construction methods. for its manufacturing and business efficiency, and for its uncanny ability to create fast and stylish boats.
Although the Herreshoff brothers never lost their love or mastery of steam engineering, it was as producers of outstanding racing and cruising sailboats up to 162 feet in overall length that the Herreshoff Mfg. Co. earned its most enduring fame. Between 1893 and 1914, for the defense of America's Cup, Captain Nat designed and the firm built seven of the largest, most complex and most powerful racing sloops the world has ever known. Of these, five were selected to sail as defenders, and all five were victorious. The firm also launched many hundreds of custom designs, both large and small, and a number one-design classes (among them Herreshoff 121/2 -and 15 footers, S boats, and New York 30s , 40s, and 50s) that have never been bettered for all-around sailing excitement and pleasure.
J.B. Herreshoff died in 1915. Captain Nat retired from an active role in the business a few years later. Even under new management, however, and in the face of world war and economic adversity, the Herreshoff Mfg. Co. continued to produce yachts, small craft and naval vessels of the highest quality. It maintained its legendary reputation for excellence until the day it closed its doors forever in 1946.
The story of the Herreshoff Mfg. Co. is the story of a remarkable American dynasty. It is a story as complex and surprising as the minds and characters of the two brilliant Rhode Island brothers who founded the company over a century ago. It directly reflects the tastes and desires (and sometimes the outrageous demand) of the robber barons who were among the firm's chief patron. Ultimately it becomes a study in marine art, as practiced by perhaps the greatest yacht designer who ever lived - and by the dedicated craftsmen who faithfully translated his visions into masterworks of metal, wood, and canvas.