Processing Whalebone

The baleen plates, or whalebone, that was harvested from the mouth of the whale had been processed somewhat aboard ship. This sturdy yet flexible part of the whale’s body was broken up into slabs, washed and dried aboard ship. The baleen was further dried when the boat reached port and was sorted by grade. At a processing plant, the ten to twelve foot long pieces of baleen were cut into standard sizes, wrapped, and sent to a variety of manufacturers.

The most common use of whalebone at the end of the nineteenth century was in women’s fashions. Corsets made with whalebone stays or supports pinched women’s waists into an hourglass shape. A typical advertisement from the 1800s boasted, “Real Whalebone Only Used.”

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Martha's Vineyard Museum Education Department