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William Henry Webb

William H. Webb was born in 1816. He began his career as an apprentice in the shipyard of his father, Isaac Webb_ (1794-1840). William Webb became noted as a designer and builder in New York City and later as founder of the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, New York. He took over the shipyard upon his father's death and built a variety of wooden-hulled vessels, including clipper ships, packets, steamships, military vessels, and others. In 1895, after retirement he published a 2-volume set of books entitled "Plans of Wooden Vessels built by William H. Webb in the City of New York, 1840-1869." William H. Webb died in 1899.

William H. Webb epitomized that very model of life with flying colours.  He built his first boat at the young age of 12 and soon thereafter, through considerable perseverance and determination and notwithstanding his parents’ desire that he further pursue his formal education, he became apprenticed to his father Isaac Webb, an accomplished Shipbuilder in his own right.  After completing his apprenticeship and as a part of continuing his education phase William ventured off to Europe to learn more of European Shipbuilding practices, particularly those of the Shipyards in Scotland along the Clyde. This aspect of his educational phase was, however, cut short by the untimely death of his father Issac in 1840 at 46 years of age. William, at the even younger age of 23 made immediate arrangements to return home to assume the helm of his father’s shipbuilding business, Webb and Allen. Considering his extraordinary youth and limited experience, the initiation of his business career was, by any measure, a baptism of fire. After assuming the responsibility for managing his father’s affairs he soon found that his father’s business was in essence, bankrupt.

After settling his father’s affairs and satisfying creditors William H. Webb set out to establish himself as one of the finest shipbuilders of the 19th century. From his first vessel, the 114 ton MALEK ADHEL to his last, the CHARLES H. MARSHALL, Mr. Webb built a wide variety of outstanding sailing ships and steamships, all of wood, a few of them iron-clad for naval service. His 29 year career was marked by a series of successful ships, and though some suffered early demises due to factors too numerous to detail in this brief synopsis he enjoyed a reputation 2nd to none throughout the world. His ships were characterized by their integrity and grace of design. Sufficed to say he proved himself a versatile designer and builder of truly outstanding ships. Inset - Clipper Challenger.

Dunderberg, which is a Swedish word meaning "thundering mountain," was an ocean-going ironclad screw frigate of 16 guns. She was designed by John Lenthall as a reproduction of CSS Virginia, with two 21-foot screws, sloping armoured casemate sides, and a 50-foot ram. She had a double bottom and collision bulkheads, and was the longest wooden ship ever built. Her keel was laid down in October 1862 by W H Webb of New York City. Her construction was initially spurred by the threat of war with the United Kingdom.  After that impetus abated, construction lagged, and she was not launched until 2 March 1865. The American Civil War ended before she could be completed, and was formally rejected by the U.S. Navy in September 1866.  Webb began seeking buyers for the warship, the design of which was already beginning to influence Naval Architecture worldwide. Otto von Bismarck expressed some interest, and the thought of Prussia armed with such a vessel prompted France to hurriedly buy her and commission her in 1867 as Rochambeau. The French scrapped her in 1874.

John Lenthall (1807–1882) was an important American shipbuilder and naval architect in the mid-19th century. He was responsible for the construction and repair of United States Navy ships during the American Civil War (1861-1865), as well as in the years immediately before and after it. His career spanned the U.S. Navy's transition from sail to steam propulsion and from wooden ships to ironclads, and in retirement he participated in early planning for an eventual steel Navy


After the end of the Civil War in 1865, the U.S. government auctioned off the hundreds of ships it had requisitioned during the war at firesale prices, depressing the market and leaving American shipyards without work. The result was that most American shipyards, along with marine engine specialists, went to the wall. The shipbuilding industry in New York was particularly badly affected by the slump, being practically wiped out in the ensuing years.

Webb's shipyard suffered like all the rest. In 1867, the yard added one last distinction to its record with the completion of the twin side wheel steamers Bristol and Providence - 2 of the largest and most lavish steamers of their era, which were to set new standards of comfort and luxury on Narragansett Bay.  After this however, Webb was able to secure only 2 further contracts over the next 2 years.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013