Herreshoff Marine Museum and Ameerica's Cup Hall of Fame
Herreshoff Marine Museum

The Curator's Log: March 2015

Curator Log March 2015 March, 2015
The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company: Notes on Core Customers


The RELIANCE Project Team led by Sandy Lee is developing important insights into the workings of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company (HMCo) at the turn-of-the-century. Sandy presented their observations at the museum’s February Lecture, “Wonderfully Modern HMCo! Still Relevant Today”. 1

They observed that with multiple product lines “HMCo (was) a very complex business” and that many of HMCo’s business, engineering and manufacturing processes were “to mitigate and reduce complexity”. Sandy’s process view of HMCo consists of six building blocks that contributed to success. The “Marketing and Contracting” process engaged a core group of customers with repeat business across all HMCo product lines, used a direct sales approach, with fast, simple fixed price contracts and sought to influence sailing masters (the technical experts) to their products.

This paper expands on Sandy’s lecture with examples of core customers and their significant contribution to the Herreshoff Company and its legacy.

Edwin Dennison Morgan; HMCo’s Entree to the America’s Cup (Table 1)

In late summer 1890 E. D. Morgan visited Bristol in his Edward Burgess (reigning America’s Cup designer) 40-foot racing sloop MOCCASIN, sailing back down the Bay aboard CLARA. As Capt. Nat Herreshoff later described the visit; “He took the wheel and he was astonished the way we (i.e. the 29-foot CLARA) held to his 40-footer in beating to windward.”

Impressed with Nat’s ideas on how he could improve on CLARA’s performance, Morgan ordered two new cat yawls; PELICAN and GANNET. Capt. Nat later wrote in Recollections, “These were the first I had designed with an overhanging bow and I was so impressed with the advantages, I used the principle in the extreme in designing GLORIANA the following year.”

The summer sail in CLARA followed by the unbeaten record of GLORIANA cemented a bond of friendship and mutual respect between the two that strengthened as Morgan became Vice Commodore of the NYYC in 1891 and Commodore in 1893, and formed the syndicate to build the Herreshoff’s first America’s Cup winner VIGILANT.2

Morton F. Plant; Beginnings of Herreshoff’s Big Steel Schooners (Table 2)

Morton’s father, Henry, became one of the richest men in the South by parlaying purchases of bankrupt railways following the Civil War and during the depression of 1873 into a profitable empire of railways, steamship lines, hotels and Florida real estate. Left out of his father’s 1899 will, Morton successfully sued and was awarded $14.6M he quickly put to use building a $3M mansion on Avery Point in Groton, CT, buying the Philadelphia Phillies and purchasing ten Herreshoff yachts. He also found time to serve as the Commodore of the Larchmont Yacht Club (1900- 1904).

When approached by Plant to build a schooner for racing in Europe, Capt. Nat had not designed one since 1866 and as L Francs Herreshoff writes in Capt. Nat: Wizard of Bristol; "… (he) very much disliked the rig and said it was too complicated and costly, and that it had too much wind resistance”. Capt. Nat and the Company however did have recent experience building the fast and lightly built America’s Cup defenders with features more advanced than the British challengers. Unlike the spartan interiors of the defenders INGOMAR was luxuriously fitted with mahogany and butternut, plush furnishings, mirrors and artistic hangings.

But it was in the racing that she proved her mettle. With Charlie Barr at the helm and many of the victorious RELIANCE crew onboard, INGOMAR's record of 17 trophies in 22 races in the summer of 1904 was the most successful campaign of an American vessel in European waters since the schooner AMERICA in 1851. The positive publicity helped to attract orders for eight more big steel racing schooners (1906- 23).3

Robert W. Emmons; Manager of Popular Buzzards Bay Classes

Emmons made his fortune as a banker and stockbroker. A member of the Beverly Yacht Club (BYC) in Marion, MA at the head of Buzzards Bay, he owned a number of Herreshoff boats including;
  • the 1897 17 ft. wl centerboard sloop OPPOSUM #484,
  • the 1898 21 ft. wl keel-centerboard sloop CYRILLA #502,
  • the 1907 53 ft. wl racing cutter AVENGER #666,
  • a Sonder boat, the 1910 19 ft. wl TOBOGGAN #697,
  • and in 1914-20 he was the owner manager for the successful RESOLUTE #725 America’s Cup Syndicate.
However Emmons most lasting importance as a Herreshoff customer is in the realm of one-design racers and daysailers. (The first application of the one-design idea is believed to have been an 1887 double-ended open dinghy class in Dublin, Ireland. The English followed in 1893 with the Solent One Design Class.) Herreshoff’s first one-design class was the 1894 Larchmont 21 fin-keelers followed in 1896 by the more numerous Newport 30 fin-keelers.

BYC members, led by Emmons, wanted a better way to conduct regattas than the handicap system and asked Capt. Nat to design a boat for a one-design fleet. After some negotiation (A memo to BYC members cautioned them not to visit Capt. Nat about the new boats since the visits invariably resulted in a letter increasing the cost.) Capt. Nat personally delivered the first eleven boats of the Buzzards Bay 15 class for the 1899 racing season. (Figure 1) Eventually 92 Herreshoff 15s (Emmons and his family owned three.) would be built (BB15, Newport 15, Watch Hill 15 and four full-keel versions), of which 32 were known to exist as of December 2009. It was HMCo’s third largest class; behind the H12½ and the S Class.4

Sixteen years later, while managing the trials of RESOLUTE in the summer of 1914, “Emmons got my father … to design a small ballasted, sloop rigged boat that would be suitable for teaching small boys how to sail and to become familiar with the characteristics of the type of larger boat to which they would later graduate… At first, the class was known as “Buzzards Bay Boys Boats”. The order for the first fleet of these boats was received … in the autumn of 1914. The first boat was ROBIN, HMC Building No. 744 built for … the price of $420.5 What started with an initial order of eleven boats over the next 30 years grew to 364 deliveries. Steve Nagy, creator of the Herreshoff Registry, has found 176 still exist today.6

Alexander Smith Cochran; Unlimited Confidence in Capt. Nat and HMCo

Cochran’s fortune was inherited from the family carpet business (Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Mills, Yonkers, NY). In1902 he was worth over $40 million.

In 1908, R. E. Emmons decided to sell his well regarded (1907 & 1908 Astor Cup winner) 1907 Herreshoff 53 ft. wl cutter AVENGER #666. He hired Charlie Barr to commission and sail her in the NYYC cruise where, while in Newport, Cochran looked her over, bought her on the spot and hired the crew as well. A good move because on August 6th, 1909 AVENGER, with Charlie Barr at the helm, won her third Astor Cup.7 Almost immediately, wanting to race schooners in Europe, he followed the advice of Barr visiting Capt. Nat in Bristol, being careful to tell him only the purpose for the yacht and avoid any desire to tell him how to design her. The resulting 96 ft. wl steel schooner WESTWARD #692 was an outstanding success; in 1910 (Charlie Barr at the helm) she won all of her races in Germany and eight out of nine in England.8 (Unfortunately Emmons, Cochran and Barr all died early; Emmons and Cochran in their mid fifties and Barr in his mid forties.)

The experience fostered in Cochran a great respect for Capt. Nat and a belief that there was no limit to what Nat could design and the HMCo could build as evidenced by the following: 9
  • Just prior to WWI Cochran asked Capt. Nat to design and build a submarine yacht that in the event of a European war could be transferred to the Royal Navy. Nat did not indicate any lack of confidence in his ability to design and build a submarine; rather declining on the excuse of his growing pacifism, but did offer that HMCo had a prior inquiry from Holland to build the Holland submarine.
  • In July 1913, with expectations high for a Cup challenge from Lipton, Cochran asked Capt. Nat to design a defender for him writing, “I shall not go in any syndicate but I would enjoy doing this with you as we did Westward.” Nat asked for time as he was already committed to a New York Syndicate if they decided to build. The syndicate did decide to build and although Cochran at first wrote he would not build without Herreshoff, he changed his mind and had Lawley build a Gardner design, VANITIE.
George A. Cormack; The Old Warrior

George Cormack was Secretary of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) for more than 30 years including the 28 years of Capt. Nat’s participation in designing, building and campaigning America’s Cup Defenders (1892-1920). He was not a paying customer, but he had significant influence in planning each Cup competition, organizing the defending syndicates and assuring the best designer was matched with a strong syndicate to meet the challenger with a winning new boat. A good level of respect between the two is evident from their correspondence. As late as 1934 Cormack was serving on the NYYC’s America’s Cup Committee, writing Nat that they were “the only one’s left of those who participated successfully in the defense of the Cup years ago” and that he trusted the new people will “have the same success, but they never can produce such boats as you did.”10 Nat and George Cormack died within three weeks of each other in June 1938.

Here are two examples of how George Cormack worked to insure that Capt. Nat was on board to design a new defender for the “right” syndicate.
  • In 1902 preparing for Lipton’s new challenge the objective is to beat him so badly that he would go away for a long time. To do that they needed a well-lead syndicate team with the best designer (Nat) and master (Charlie Barr). In May 1902 Capt. Nat is not anxious to design another defender writing syndicate manager C. Oliver Iselin that “my best years for such work have passed.” Iselin encourages him through the summer and George Cormack helps by writing Nat a little white lie= Charlie Barr has signed on to the team. That is important to Nat because in the 1901 defender trials COLUMBIA with Barr in command beat Nat’s new boat CONSTITUTION, even though Nat new the latter to be the better boat. It works, in September Nat agrees “to undertake the task” and a month later Barr is released to join the RELIANCE team.11
  • In 1913 a new challenge is being negotiated between Lipton and the NYYC and George Cormack corresponds frequently with Capt. Nat on the progress. Three US defender syndicates are in the early stages of formation. Cormack wants Capt. Nat available for the strongest so he telegrams Nat early in the year “Do not do anything about accepting order fro Defender until you hear from me”.12 Nat follows that direction and eventually signs on with the Cornelius Vanderbilt Syndicate managed by R. W. Emmons.
Thanks to Sandy Lee and Class van der Linde for their assistance.

John Palmieri

1 Sandy Lee, “Wonderfully Modern HMCo! Still Relevant Today”. Herreshoff Marine Museum Lecture. February 19, 2015.
2 John J. Palmieri, “Curator’s Log March 2011-Nathanael Greene Herreshoff and the America’s Cup: Part One- A Sail on the Bay is a First Step to the Cup”. Herreshoff Marine Museum Library, The Current Archives.
3 John J. Palmieri, “Curator’s Log February 2012- INGOMAR: The Most Successful Campaign Since the Schooner AMERICA ”. Herreshoff Marine Museum Library, The Current Archives.
4 Alec E. Brainerd, Bernard H. Gustin and Steven K. Nagy, “The Herreshoff 15 Is Alive And Well...”. CYS 2010 Proceedings. Herreshoff Marine Museum.
5 Sidney A. Herreshoff, “Herreshoff 12½ Footer” (Written May 12, 1974). Herreshoff Marine Museum Chronicle Vol. 13, Spring 1985.
6 Steve Nagy, “The Herreshoff 12½ Footer Evolution Of The Class”. CYS 2014 Proceedings. Herreshoff Marine Museum.
7 L. Francis Herreshoff, An Introduction to Yachting. New York, 1963, p. 170-171.
8 L. Francis Herreshoff, Captain Nat: The Wizard of Bristol. Sheridan House New York, 1953. p. 276-78.
9 NGH/ Cochran correspondence. Herreshoff Marine Museum Archives. Access courtesy of Halsey C. Herreshoff.
10 George Cormack to NGH letter of Jan. 3, 1934. Herreshoff Marine Museum Archives. Access courtesy of Halsey C. Herreshoff.
11 NGH to Iselin letters of May 23 and Sept. 5, 1902. Cormack letter to NGH Sept. 1902. Herreshoff Marine Museum Archives. Access courtesy of Halsey C. Herreshoff.
12 Undated 1902 telegram Cormack to NGH. Herreshoff Marine Museum Archives. Access courtesy of Halsey C. Herreshoff.