Whale oil provided fuel for lighting and lubrication for the gears of the industrial revolution, until it was replaced by petroleum products in the mid-nineteenth century. The whaling industry ranked ninth in the United States in overall value to the economy at its height in the mid-1840s. The documentation of that industry is extensive; the data presented here combines many sources including logbooks, journals, ship registers, newspapers, business papers, and custom house records. (Learn more → An Overview of North American Whaling.)
We hope this site will useful to a wide range of persons, from scholars of the industry to family historians searching for ancestors to teachers and their students.
At the heart of the current site are three databases, one describing every known American offshore whaling voyage from the 1700s through the 1920s (more than 15,000 voyages and 2,500 vessels), another transcribing location information from more than 1,400 whaling logbooks, and the third containing crew lists for more than 5,300 voyages.
In the future we plan to link additional data sets to the core databases, to encourage other institutions with significant holdings of whaling history artifacts to link them using universal whaling history identifiers, and to invite scholars, students and the general public to use the data and share their works through our gallery. We also hope to collaborate with others to provide access to whaling history information from other countries, such as the British Southern Whale Fishery database.
- Available now: American Offshore Whaling Voyages, including crew lists and voyage track maps based on logbook data.
- Coming next: Links to digitized logbooks and whaling artifacts in museum collections, whale distribution maps, and new ways to embed and share Whaling History content in projects, presentations, and exhibitions.