Copper Sheathing, Industrial Espionage and an Eminent American Entrepreneur


  • Louis Arthur Norton Univerity of Connecticut, Professor emeritus


Historically, wooden ships were plagued by infestations of “ship worms” and other timber-destroying creatures. Many remedies were tried with limited success. Finally, the British discovered that sheathing the ship’s bottom with copper was effective. The rolling of copper to thin sheets became an industrial secret that gave Britain an economic and military advantage. Paul Revere obtained a contract to copper sheath some of the nascent United States Naval Fleet, among them was the USF Constitution. Revere’s friend engaged in industrial espionage to learn the British procedure and brought the formula to Revere. The multi-talented American improved upon the process and started a large successful copper mill in Massachusetts. The technology of alloying metals evolved and ultimately changed the materials used in sheathing vulnerable ships. This article examines an episode of industrial espionage that involved two American icons, a storied ship and a patriot, entrepreneur and opportunist.