William Henry Webb

June 19, 1816 - October 30, 1899

New York, New York

The legacy of William Webb has allowed many of the world’s most successful naval architects to make shipping and yacht racing more competitive, safer and better for everyone who sets sail. He was one of the greatest shipbuilders during an era when sail power was the driving force of commerce, naval power and eventually sport on the high seas. He was 35 years old when the schooner America defeated the British fleet in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. He died just 10 days after Columbia defeated Shamrock I in 1899. Surely, he was aware of the America’s Cup and the importance of speed under sail. All his ships were fast and efficient. Among the most famous clipper ships ever built was Webb’s Young America in 1852. It was considered to be one of the fastest and most beautiful clipper ships of the time. The New York Yacht Club named their 2000 Cup challenger after Webb’s vessel.

Webb took over his father’s shipbuilding company as a young man in 1840 and ran it until 1872. Later in life, he became a significant philanthropist. Webb Institute graduate, Joe Cuneo, Class of 1957, says, “William H. Webb’s vision was to provide a good education for people who could not afford it. He went far beyond being a good shipbuilder. He was a man of many different interests including civic concerns. He was asked three times to run for mayor of New York City. (Webb declined.) He built an aqueduct that is still in service today.” As for naval architecture and yachting, Webb’s extraordinary legacy was established when he used his fortune to found Webb’s Academy and Home for Shipbuilders on May 5, 1894. The original site was a huge mansion he bought in the Bronx. The college later acquired the Pratt Estate in 1947 on Long Island Sound in Glen Cove, New York. To this day, Webb’s endowment has allowed every student to attend the college tuition free.

Every America’s Cup since 1930 has featured Webb Institute graduates on the design teams of the USA defenders, and in recent years virtually every international team has Webb graduates engaged in the design and engineering development of America’s Cup yachts. Keith Michel is the President of Webb Institute and notes, “I think he would feel great about the legacy he left behind to take care of his shipyard workers for the rest of their lives, and then create a school that would go on in perpetuity. We have received 132 years of free education for both American and international students.” It should be noted that Webb is also one of the primary founders of The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, which is an organization that continues to thrive to his day.

— Gary Jobson

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Students who graduate from this tiny tuition-free college make more than Harvard grads from CNBC.

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