My New Whale Rug
I just received a beautiful rug made by my grandma! It took her a while to make it as she used embroidery thread in French knots. The rug is a picture of a whale - and not just any whale! I am told that my ancestor, Mehitabel, went on a whaling expedition with her family. I am certain that everyone reading this knows what story I am talking about, but did you know just how much more there is to that tale?

Mrs.B tells me that before petroleum and electricity, the world ran on whale oil - and not just any whale oil, but specifically that from sperm whales. This particular whale has the largest brain of any mammal alive, the biggest teeth and the most dangerous to pursue because it often fought back and was famously known for ramming ships and sinking them. The wax from it's head cavity, and the oil contained in its skin, muscles and bones is a most unique chemical composition that was used in making margarine, soap, lipstick, skin creams, and eventually nitro glycerine and dynamite. The candles made from its wax burned brighter and cleaner than any other candles and the light given off became the definition of candle power. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence by light of these candles!
When Mehitabel and the Preble family took to sea, whaling was a respectable, dangerous, but profitable profession if one was lucky. A captain could be set for life with a couple of successful voyages.

Because sperm whales were fished out in the Atlantic, whaling ships needed to go to the Pacific Ocean by way of going around South America. Most voyages were 3 to 5 years long and American whaling ships were outfitted as floating factories so whales could be processed into oil at sea. Sometimes weeks and months would go by before a whale was spotted Getting shipwrecked in the Pacific whaling grounds meant deciding to head several thousand miles back to land on South America, or take your chances with supposed Cannibals in the much closer Pacific Islands.

American whalers were unlike any others in the world. The captain often took his family as some wives would rather endure the hardship at sea rather than the long separation. Gamming, socializing at sea with another whaling ship, was often a week long event. Every crew member got his chance to visit the other ship, and even a special chair was aboard to make it easier for the captains' wives to go back and forth.

What really made the oil from "Hitty's" whale so lucrative to hunt was that the Industrial Revolution could not have happened without it. Imagine, the world's largest mammal enabling the Age of Machines! I suppose some could say the whales eventually got their revenge, but we will leave that thought for another discussion.
And so, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, from the beginning, puts American women into the heart of what made the world go 'round. I cannot think of a more appropriate creature than the whale, sewn into our new rug, to share our home. Thanks so much, Grandma!

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