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Herreshoff, John Brown (1841-1915) USA

Category: DESIGNERS

JBHerreshoffV« The Blind Genuis »

The story of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company must start with John Brown Herreshoff. At the time of his birth, the Herreshoffs were living at Point Pleasant Farm on Poppasquash Neck. He showed a great deal of energy and ambition for a lad, having his own rope walk, a workshop and a foot lathe.

HerreshoffHomeHe had a natural and dominant interest in boats; it was in his blood. Known locally as J.B., John Brown Herreshoff was a most remarkable man who, in spite of being blind for most of his life, started and ran a thriving boat building business in Bristol for fifty-two years. Known in history as "the blind designer" and "the blind boat builder" he was a person of great ambition and ability along with a quick mind who developed his no visual senses to a high degree to overcome the handicap of sightlessness.

At age seven, John Brown was deprived of sight in one eye because of an illness; later, he lost the sight in his other eye from an accident while playing with his brother Charles. J.B. was seven years older than his brother Nat; he was an aggressive and impatient taskmaster to his younger brother who was forced to do things far beyond what would normally be expected of a boy his age. HopeStreetNorthWhile these activities may have been interesting, they were no doubt a burden and probably deprived the young lad of a normal childhood. This had a marked effect on Nat's character.

In 1856, the entire family moved from Point Pleasant Farm across the harbor, to a house that stands at 142 Hope Street just south of Burnside Street. Two years later J.B. began his boat building business.

Thus, when J.B. totally without sight at the age of eighteen, accepted a commission to design and build a yacht for Thomas Clapham, he began an industry that thrived beyond all expectations and JBHbrought international fame and honor to himself and to Bristol, Rhode Island. In his early years, Herreshoff had acquired such a keen knowledge and "feel" of boats that his blindness was no obstacle. The handwork however, was done by his brother, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, later known as "the Wizard of Bristol."

John Brown Herreshoff had an exceptional memory and a photographic mind. His method was to dictate specifications to his brother who would construct a model. Then, by feeling the model, J.B. could find defects and suggest improvements with uncanny intuition. A keel was never laid until the completed model had passed the test of his searching fingers.

John Brown Herreshoff died on July 20, 1915. He had been ill for about a month, suffering from a general breakdown. He was born in Bristol April, 24 1841 and was twice married. John's first marriage, to Sarah Lucas ("Sadie") Kilton was turbulent; they were separated in 1885, and finally granted a divorce in 1891. John later remarried to Eugenia T. Tucker. His second wife survives, with one daughter, Mrs. Catherine J. H. De Wolf of this town. A third brother, J. B. Francis Herreshoff, is a New York chemist and inventor.

 

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