New Bedford’s Father of Invention

Do you believe that necessity is the mother of invention, meaning that if you really need to do something, you will think of a way to do it? If that’s true, then innovation should be the father of invention.

Lewis Temple was a brilliant innovator who moved to New Bedford from Richmond in 1829. No one knows for sure if he was born a slave or a freeman, but we do know the truth: he was not just a innovator, trailblazer and pathfinder, but someone who revolutionized the entire whaling industry, causing an immediate major shift in the global economy.

For centuries, Eskimos and Indians used the harpoon, but the single pointed end slipped off the whalebone and broke off. In 1848 Temple’s idea of ​​attaching a second swinging head, or toggle, which would open like a butterfly once inside the whale and secure the whale, became the standard bearer of the whaling industry here and abroad.

It is unfortunate that Temple did not patent his invention.

Sea Lab, the New Bedford Public Schools marine science education program, honored Lewis Temple by dedicating the Sea Lab hall to him when it opened in 2007.

Courtesy of Sea Lab

Courtesy of Sea Lab

“At Sea Lab, we honor this gentleman of color every day, not just during Black History Month,” commented Sea Lab host Simone Bourgeois. “Temple was the kind of thinker who looked at a problem and solved it.”

Courtesy of Sea Lab

Courtesy of Sea Lab

Bourgeois said it was his father who taught him about Temple’s heritage that made him want to honor him.

When I was asked to dedicate the school hall, I remembered my father’s inspirational story about Lewis Temple and decided to name the hall, along with our scholarships at Sea Lab, after Lewis Temple,” she said.

Courtesy of Sea Lab

Courtesy of Sea Lab

Revolutionizing an industry worldwide, as Lewis Temple did, is not just about creating a better product. It’s about changing the perception of this industry, because changes in perception are what ultimately lead to changes in attitudes and behaviors. It’s changing the way people think, and in honor of Black History Month, its impact is getting worse over time.

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