Stamps of the Marshall Islands

Topical Stamp Collecting: Ships, Oceania

Whaleship Visits to the Marshall Islands


Whaling was a significant American industry in the 19th Century. In addition to oil that was used both as a fuel for lamps and as a machine lubricant, the animals were harvested for the baleen which filter feeding whales have in place of teeth. Somewhat erroneously referred to as whalebone, baleen is actually composed of keratin - the same substance which is found in hair, horn, and fingernails. Strong and flexible, baleen was used in the manufacture of numerous goods such as corsets, hairbrushes, buggy whips, and collar stays. The whale business was lucrative and fortunes were made. Known as "The City that Lit the World." New Bedford, Massachusetts, was at the center of the trade. Hundreds of vessels called the port home, and the city became one of the wealthiest in the young nation.

The growth of the American whaling industry was propelled by technological advances. The most important of these advances was the adaptation of brick furnace systems known as try-works to be installed shipboard so that blubber could be processed into oil while the ship was still at sea. Also, the adoption of double-ended ship design and other innovations enabled the Americans to build a fleet of fast, maneuverable, and versatile ships.

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the industry on Pacific exploration. Captains kept detailed logs, fleshing out winds, currents, islands, and other details of the vast ocean. Possessed of rugged ships and the ability to process and store their harvest, Yankee whalers would often stay at sea for three or four years. In need of water and other supply, the ships and their crews became a fact of life for Pacific cultures, establishing contact and trade where often no more formal relationship existed. Unfortunately bringing such ills as alcohol and disease, these relationships were frequently not in the best interest of the islanders.

On February 20, 1987 the Marshall Islands issued this set of four stamps which picture whaleships known to have visited the island: the whaleship James Arnold (1854); the whaling bark General Scott (1859); the whaleship Charles W. Morgan (1865); and the steam whaling bark Lucretia (1884). The ships all hailed from New Bedford. The Charles W. Morgan was an active whaleship for 80 years, making 37 voyages from 1841 to 1921. The Morgan can now be found at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut where it is preserved as the last American wooden whaler still afloat.



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