To understand our unique college one must know something about the background of its founder, William H. Webb, and conditions existing in the maritime industry at the time he established and endowed “Webb’s Academy.” Webb was the foremost shipbuilder of New York City during the period when a majority of the most important shipyards of the United States were located on the Manhattan and Brooklyn banks of the East River.
William H. Webb – Shipbuilder and Philanthropist
Webb was born in 1816 and learned the art of shipbuilding from his father, Isaac Webb, whose shipyard he eventually took over upon the latter’s death in 1840. From then until 1869 William Webb contracted for, designed, and supervised the construction of one hundred and thirty-five wooden vessels of all types, including fishing schooners; ferry boats; fast sailing packets; clipper ships; large Atlantic, Pacific and coast-wise steamships; as well as ironclad warships for European navies.
During this 29-year period, Mr. Webb constructed both a larger number and a greater tonnage of vessels than any other American shipbuilder of the era. He was active in the formation of a number of steamship lines, both before and after his retirement as a shipbuilder.
Highlights of William H. Webb’s career:
- Described in the New York Herald as “The very first naval architect in this country”
- Active Member of the Chamber of Commerce in NYC
- One of the founders of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) in 1893
- Founded the Webb Academy and Home for Shipbuilders, now Webb Institute
- Supporter of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Webb Institute – The Early Years
With the replacement of wooden ships by iron ones, largely occurring in the 1870s and the continued developments in size, speed, power, and complexity of steamships, it became evident that a more formal and detailed education would be required for naval architects and marine engineers than that offered by the apprenticeship systems under which Mr. Webb and his contemporaries had learned their profession.
With this in mind, Mr. Webb decided to create a school to train future designers of ships and marine machinery. The State of New York granted a Charter to Webb’s Academy and Home for Shipbuilders on April 2, 1889. Instruction was started in 1894 with a faculty of three, and the first class of eight men graduated in 1897.
The length of the course was increased from three to four years in 1909. In 1933 authority was obtained from the University of the State of New York to award a Bachelor of Science degree.
In 1947, Webb Institute moved to its current location of the Long Island Gold Coast in Glen Cove, NY. The present name of Webb Institute was adopted in 1994.
Although radical change has occurred in curriculum content since the program’s inception, the basic educational goals have persisted: educating young men and women generally, while simultaneously training them professionally as naval architects, with an included competence in marine engineering.
Webb Institute – Preparing for the Future
Until his death in 1899, Mr. Webb assumed all the operating expenses of the Academy. In addition, properties, mostly in the form of real estate, were transferred to it. Further endowment was provided under the terms of Mr. Webb’s will. Under the management of the original Board of Trustees and their successors, this endowment has been extensively increased. The endowment income, together with gifts from foundations, corporations, alumni and other individuals, largely defrays current operating costs. Despite continuous increases in faculty, facilities, and their accompanying expenditures, the Institute still offers a full-tuition scholarship education to its undergraduate students.