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William H. Chamberlain (1864-1939) Papers

William H. Chamberlain (1864-1939) Papers

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WILLIAM H. CHAMBERLAIN (1864-1939) PAPERS, 1896-1939

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Chamberlain, William H., 1864-1939
Title:William H. Chamberlain (1864-1939) Papers
Quantity:0.5 linear feet (1 box, 1 flat file)
Abstract:The William H. Chamberlain papers contain materials from his time as a naval designer and builder and include financial records, correspondence with clients, and design papers.
Collection Number:MH 54

Series List

SERIES I. Financial Papers
SERIES II. Correspondence
SERIES III. Design Papers

Scope and Content Note

The William H. Chamberlain papers contain materials from his time as a naval designer and builder and include financial records, correspondence with clients, and design papers. This collection is by no means a complete record of Chamberlain's naval design and building business, it only provides a glimpse into the business as it covers a short period of time and the material relates to only a handful of vessels. This collection is organized into four series.

Series I. Financial Papers contains two charge books, a check book, and a record book, all of which detail Chamberlain's accounts with customers.

Series II. Correspondence contains correspondence to and from clients. The majority of the correspondence is between Chamberlain and William E. Blodgett, who appears to have purchased a couple of vessels from Chamberlain over the years. The correspondence includes two photographs that Blodgett sent Chamberlain of his beach home in Florida.

Series III. Design Papers contains papers related to the design and building of Chamberlain's vessels. It contains contracts between Chamberlain and clients, specifications for the vessels, blueprints and sketches. One of the blueprints is by naval architect John G. Alden for his number 188; it is possible that Chamberlain worked off of this blueprint at one time. There are a set of blueprints for a special design for William Wallace, Jr., it is unknown why these have been included in this collection, as they were drawn up and revised after Chamberlain's death.

Series IV. Other contains miscellaneous items, such as a diary that Chamberlain kept to record daily wind conditions and direction, in addition to how many hours he worked that day. This series includes by-laws from the Burgess Yacht Club of Marblehead, Massachusetts and some information from the Massachusetts Bay Indian Marconi Class Association. Also included is an undated catalog of boats available from Chamberlain, a business card, photocopy of a picture, and some miscellaneous notes.

Biographical Sketch

William Henry Chamberlain was born on October 3, 1864 to Jason and Elizabeth H. (Stevens) Chamberlain in Canterbury, New Hampshire. He was a yacht and boat builder who designed and built power, sail and racing dories, and skiffs in Marblehead, Massachusetts. His shop was located at 14 Orne Street in Marblehead. Chamberlain was known for designing a double-ended gunning dory, a 21-foot beachcomber sailing dory, and a style of surf dories, which was used in Boston for lifesaving and beach patrol work (Gardner 192, 202-203). He also designed a 13 foot skiff (257). Chamberlain also built the first of the Indian-class dories, which were first sailed in 1921 at Marblehead's Eastern Yacht Club. The Indian-class dory is different from the traditionally designed dory is that it has greater beam and firmer bilges, brought aft to the transom, all of which affords the opportunity to carry more sail, and thus perform better. This design "provided a margin of safety without diminishing the excitement factor. It was, in fact, a boat well suited to clubs with limited budgets and many young sailors" (Commentary by the editors, 47). Chamberlain built about thirty Indian dories, and is credited with guiding the Indian class in the early years of its existence; in fact, the Massachusetts Bay Indian Marconi Class Association named a memorial trophy after him in 1939 due to his significant contributions to the class (Massachusetts Bay Indian Marconi Class Association: Log 1939).

He married Georgene A. (?). They appear to have adopted three daughters. Chamberlain died April 5, 1939.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Hammond, Harry H.
Burgess Yacht Club
Account books


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

William H. Chamberlain (1864-1939) Papers, MH 54, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was donated by Mrs. Selwyn Wyzanski (accession #18,065).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, March 2015.

Related Material

"Advertisement." Power Boating 23 (January 1921): 72.

Commentary by the editors. "An Interclub Racing Dory." In 100 Boat Designs Reviewed: The Wooden Boat Series, edited by Peter H. Spectre, 47-48. ME: Wooden Boat Publications, Inc., 1997.

Gardner, John. The Dory Book. Camden, ME: International Marine Publishing Company, 1978.

Massachusetts Bay Indian Marconi Class Association: Log 1939. Brochure, 1939.

Prescott H. Littlefield Papers, 1959-1960. MH 147.

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