Thirst for Oil
Coastal New Jersey supplied whale oil that illuminated cities around the world
Producing a smokeless flame and a clear, bright light, whale oil was considered to be one of best illuminants of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. To meet demand, early whaling enclaves prospered in Cape May and Ocean counties. When whales became scarce on the coast, Newark and Perth Amboy sent ships to the far reaches of the globe in search of more oil. In 1838, the whaling ship John Wells returned to Newark after 421 days at sea. The bounty – two thousand barrels of whale oil and eighteen thousand pounds of whale bone. The oil brought light to homes while the bone was used in umbrellas and women’s corsets.
It took big tools to capture and process the biggest animals on the planet. Invented by Lewis Temple, an African-American blacksmith, the Temple-toggle harpoon provided an effective weapon that would not dislodge from the whale’s body. A blubber hook was needed to lift massive pieces of whale blubber up to the decks of whaling ships. Whalers also needed big cast iron pots in order to render whale blubber into oil. This well-worn example was used in Surf City.