New Bedford Business Evolves

Some whaling businesses adapted to new industrial demands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Others were supplanted by textile mills and glass factories. The New Bedford Cordage Company actually expanded to meet the demand for high-quality rope for private yachts. Men who had once worked as blacksmiths found employment in iron plants that produced a variety of new industrial blades. Migrants to the city found that they had numerous, more profitable employment options on land than signing on for a whaling voyage.

The Baker-Robinson Whale Oil Refinery illustrated the gradual changes to the whale processing industry. During the peak of New England whaling, this plant’s sturdy cauldrons and hydraulic press produced the finest candles, the best lubricants, and the purest oil for lamps. In the 1920s, the refinery building was converted into an ice house. Later it served as a fish processing factory for a pet food company. Finally it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In 2010, a developer gutted the interior of the granite building to create a function room for a local hotel and convention center.

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New Bedford Whaling Museum