May 7, 2020

This Week in Herreshoff History: May 7

CONSTITUTION (HMCo. #551) launching, a delivery of timber from the west coast, and the launching of PETREL (HMCo. #510)

May 7, 1901

The launching of CONSTITUTION (HMCo. #551) makes front page news! The town is disappointed to not be allowed to attend, but the mood around town is understanding. The risk of accidents with a large crowd of spectators is one more thing the Herreshoff's would prefer not to worry about during an America's Cup Contender launch.

CONSTITUTION never had a chance to defend the Cup, despite the fanfare and N.G.H.'s belief that she was the better boat over her older sister COLUMBIA (HMCo. #499), who ended up winning the contender trials. As L. Francis wrote in the Wizard of Bristol, "While the public and all writers of that time think Captain Nat made a failure in 'Constitution' because 'Columbia' was chosen to defend the cup in 1901, Captain Nat always thought 'Constitution' the best of his large cup boats --- better than 'Columbia' or 'Reliance' --- and the general public has overlooked the fact that 'Constitution' easily beat 'Columbia' in 1903 when both 'Columbia' and 'Constitution' were trial horses for 'Reliance.'" CONSTITUTION's poor performance has since been chalked up to poor handling by her crew in the contender races that year.

Tom Brightman was a life-long employee and eventually an HMCo. foreman, and he was also responsible for taking so many of the detailed historic photos of shops and boats under construction that are an integral part of the HMM collection today. He recounted his own connection to CONSTITUTION in an article published by the HMM Chronicle in the spring of 1989: "... It just happened that the day I started [working at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company], they launched the Cup candidate CONSTITUTION. She was (later) defeated by COLUMBIA which defended the America's Cup in 1899 and again in 1901. I remember that the morning that the papers announced that COLUMBIA had been chosen to defend the second time, Mr. John came into the office and said to Mr. Nat that they decided to use COLUMBIA again, and if they lost the Cup, what were they going to do. Without hesitation, Mr. Nat said, 'Well, we can take the CONSTITUTION and go get it back.' He was firmly of the opinion that CONSTITUTION was the better boat, but she didn't have the organization behind her. Charlie Barr was the skipper of COLUMBIA."

In somewhat quieter news, the same Phoenix issue reports the arrival of a Special Lumber Train! Carrying "a large consignment of lumber from Portland, Oregon for the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co., which had been several weeks in crossing the continent... The lumber occupied six flat cars and came from Valley Falls... In the consignment are ten large Oregon pine spars, in the rough, which will be used for masts for yachts. There is also a large quantity of Oregon pine lumber in joist shape. The cost of transporting it will amount to nearly $1,000." Oregon pine is prized in spar making to this day for wooden boat builders. Adjusted for inflation alone $1,000 amounts to more than $30,700 today. That said, were such a shipment to make the news in Bristol today, the papers would likely marvel more over the scarcity (and value) of the the lumber itself than the cost of transport.

May 9, 1899

The Bristol Phoenix reports the new 56-foot yawl PETREL (HMCo. #510) was launched at HMCo. on May 8, 1899. Two vessels were built to this half model: PETREL in 1899, and DORIS (HMCo. #625) in 1905. While PETREL's fate is unconfirmed, it is possible she burned according to an annotation from the MIT Museum collection. DORIS on the other hand is still very much with us, and is currently undergoing a full restoration at Snediker Yacht Restoration in Mystic, CT.

The half model for PETREL (HMCo. #510) and DORIS (HMCo. #625), likely carved in 1899. Model currently on display in the Model Room at HMM\
DORIS (HMCo. #625) photographed by Nathaniel Stebbins in 1908; from the Historic New England Stebbins Collection