December 13, 2021

The Herreshoff Brothers and their Torpedo Boats, Part V: HMCo. #118, STILETTO and the Torpedo Cruiser, 1883 – 1885

A series of papers on bringing innovation to the “New Navy”

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by John Palmieri

See on-line THE HERRESHOFF CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ for detailed information on HMCo. # vessels including photos, half model images and descriptive documents


Part 4 developed the model test basis for the hull design of STILETTO (HMCo. #118) and identified the torpedo machinery and vessel business opportunities opening to Herreshoff. Part 5 covers the years 1883-1885, exploring how Capt. Nat Herreshoff’s torpedo boat hull HMCo. #118 came to be built as the yacht STILETTO, the torpedo cruiser collaboration with Admiral of the Navy David Dixon Porter and ends with a view to the opportunities and risks facing the Herreshoff’s in the following years. In telling the story of STILETTO we cannot be 100% sure we have it right. Neither John or Nat explained directly and completely the thinking and process that brought them to design and build STILETTO. They never wrote on the subject, save for comments by Nat in 1893 regarding the company’s experience combining in one vessel, most probably STILETTO, the characteristics of a torpedo boat and a high-speed yacht. Starting from that point in 1893 the story is developed from the latest research of Herreshoff and HMCo. records, correspondence from various sources, official US Navy records and contemporary newspaper accounts.

We are also near the time when Nathanael G. Herreshoff, came to be addressed as “Capt. Nat.” We certainly owe him that respect, and so address him going forward.

Figure 1– The 94-foot STILETTO (WTB-1)- the 118th steam vessel built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. as converted for torpedo boat service. Launching a Howell automobile torpedo from the bow tube c. 1890. (US Navy Photo)

Combining the Torpedo Boat and the Yacht

[1] Richard S. West Jr. The Second Admiral: A Life of David Dixon Porter. (New York: Coward McCann, Inc. 1937) Pgs. 315-18.