Control in Design and Quality

Behind the scenes at Capt. Nat’s shop.

To keep control of his designs, Herreshoff refrained from outsourcing.Yachting Magazine

Countless yachtsmen around the world admire the creations of Nathanael Herreshoff, the “Wizard of Bristol” who dominated yacht design at the turn of the 20th century. But his shop where he built his yachts tells even more of a story, one often underappreciated. The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company was not just one building; it was a collection of sheds and shops along Burnside Street in his birthplace of Bristol, Rhode Island. The vertically integrated system that he and his brother John created was unusual at the time, says Norene Rickson, librarian and archivist at the Herreshoff Marine Museum.

Nathanael Herreshoff, Burnside Street, Rhode Island, Herreshoff Marine Museum
Capt. Nat at the height of his career, around the turn of the century.Yachting Magazine

Design and production were one and the same — most anchors, capstans, cleats, engines, fittings, lines, sails and spars were designed and built at the shop. Six to eight buildings were dedicated to creating these parts, making almost the entire shipbuilding process an in-house operation. The plant continuously added buildings, growing in response to customer demand.

Nathanael Herreshoff, Burnside Street, Rhode Island, Herreshoff Marine Museum
The sloop Clytie was almost ready for launch at Herreshoff’s newly extended shop in Bristol, Rhode Island, 1866.Yachting Magazine

Today, of course, many shipyards outsource a great deal of this work, but Herreshoff wanted to maintain control over quality. He invested in skills much the same way; many employees of the Herreshoff shop worked there for 30 to 40 years, Rickson says.

Nathanael Herreshoff, Burnside Street, Rhode Island, Herreshoff Marine Museum
Many of the anchors, capstans, cleats, engines, fittings, lines, sails and spars were built in one of the buildings in Herreshoff's extensive shop.Yachting Magazine

Yachting’s July 1938 issue reported that Capt. Nat’s verbal agreement with his brother was simple: “that the character of the work done should be the very best possible, charging a price that would compensate for the extra cost.”

From that attitude, and Herreshoff’s buildings, came some of the most famous yachts in the sport’s history.

Nathanael Herreshoff, Burnside Street, Rhode Island, Herreshoff Marine Museum
“It was perhaps as an engineer rather than as a designer that Captain Nat’s genius was most pronounced.”—Nathanael Herreshoff’s Obituary, Yachting, July 1938Yachting Magazine