September 17, 2020
This Week in Herreshoff History: September 17
Back to work again, three little launches for one large yacht, firefighting in 1917, and a clambake of note
September 17, 1909
There are many complex factors that contributed to HMCo.’s financial success during J.B.H.’s lifetime. His brilliance at calculating and estimating production costs and his shrewd business acumen are undeniable, and HMCo. thrived under the capitalist ideals of the late 19th century American economy. This 1909 Bristol Phoenix article is another example of those ideals in practice on the shop floor: when there was work, the employees worked, and when there was not, they were furloughed. Though today we might consider this fairly ruthless, this was not unusual for the times: “The clang of the bell on the shops of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company yesterday was a pleasing sound to many, as it was the first time it had been rung to call in the employees in more than two months. The firm has recently received orders for several craft, including a large steel-framed racing schooner for A. F. Cochrane, owner of the sloop yacht Avenger. The other boats ordered are launches. Word was sent out Wednesday to all the carpenters and many of the steel workers, formerly employed by the company, that there would be work for them at the shops beginning yesterday. Many of them responded when the bell rang yesterday, though some had secured other work which could not be left at short notice…”
A story appears on the same page of the Phoenix describing Morton F. Plant’s visit to HMCo. on his yacht IOLANDA the preceding Tuesday. The launch delivering the party to HMCo. may have been HMCo. #262. Plant signed a contract for another HMCo. built launch in September 1909 – perhaps on this very trip? HMCo. #272 was trialed on October 5, 1909, and may well have been one of the launch contracts referred to in the previous paragraph. The contract for HMCo. #273, a third launch for Plant, was signed on October 6, 1909, the day after #272’s trial. One can assume the trial was satisfactory! Both #272 and #273 were signs of a new time, possibly requiring proving from the customer’s perspective: they were both gasoline powered launches, whereas #262 was steam powered. All three launches were variations on the same half model. The construction drawings are full of interesting details worth examining closely – note the difference in space required by the steam engine, boiler and chimney in #262 versus the far more compact gasoline engines in #272 and #273 in the construction drawings from the Haffenreffer-Herreshoff collection at the MIT Museum.
September 14, 1917
The Phoenix reports on a near miss: “Fire broke out on the west side of the water tower on one of the main buildings at the plant of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, shortly after 1 o’clock, yesterday afternoon, but was quickly extinguished by the Company’s fire department, in charge of Chief A. W. Hathaway…” Fire has always been (and continues to be) a huge and terrible risk in boatyards. Wood chips, dust, shavings, linseed oil and solvents, cigarette toting employees and steam powered machinery were a potent combination during HMCo.’s years of operation. Fire was such an extraordinary threat that HMCo. had strict fire prevention protocols (as we read a few weeks ago), their own in-house fire brigade, and reserved equipment. A night watchman was not only posted to look for interlopers but also to patrol for fire risks. There are a number of fire-related artifacts in the HMM collection, including a handbook of firefighting protocols and HMCo. fire brigade badges, complete with hook and ladder flanking RELIANCE (naturally). You can read more about organizing the brigade in this Bristol Phoenix article from April, 1904. Today in the States we are thinking very much about friends and first responders on the west coast during this fire season, and hope our readers out there are staying safe.
September 16, 1919
There’s a lot more than first meets the eye in this unassuming report in the Bristol Phoenix of a “clam bake for yachtsmen” on Prudence Island the previous Sunday, September 14. This week we will leave you to ponder. Stay tuned for some marconi intrigue, a mysterious possible origin story for the most iconic and distinctive feature of a beloved class, some archival sleuthing, and ultimately, more questions than answers, in next week’s “From the Vault” post. STAY TUNED.