Factory Typology

The American Whaling Industry
Credit: Norling, Lisa. Captain Ahab Had a Wife, 11-12.

As David Meyer notes in his article “The New Industrial Order,” American industrialization produced a landscape of mechanical and spatial integration.  Production was organized around power.[i]  The mill became a nucleus around which communities developed in colonial and early republican U.S. and led to the development of communities centered upon factories.  One of the first factory typologies in the New England area was processing factories for whales.  While whaling had been practiced since the seventeenth century its popularity and demand heightened during the middle of the nineteenth century in New England until products made from whale were replaced by steel and other technological advancements.

America’s whaling industry emerged in southern New England in communities such as Nantucket and New Bedford.   While American whaling reached its peak in 1845-1846 New Bedford became the whaling capital of the world and continued its operations for decades while other ports were in decline.[ii]  In the 1820’s the center of New England’s whale fishery transitioned from Nantucket to New Bedford. This shift changed the scale of the industry as New Bedford could accommodate a larger fleet and its harbor location enabled a higher output with easier access for whale ships than that of Nantucket.[iii]  Whaling became more specialized and competitive in New England as the popularity of the corset and other whale products such as oil, candles and scrimshaws increased the demand for whales and whalebone.  This demand increased growth in New Bedford both socially and economically due to jobs and manufactures linked to whaling.

Major 19th Century Whaling Grounds
Credit: Norling, Lisa. Captain Ahab Had a Wife, 124-125.

[i] David R. Meyer, “The New Industrial Order,” in The Making of the American Landscape (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990), 249-268, esp. 249-255.

[ii] Recarte, Ana. “Historical Whaling in New England.” Friends of Thoreau (n.d.): 1-29.

[iii] Lisa Norling. Captain Ahab Had a Wife: New England Women and the Whalefishery 1720-1870. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.


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