Sparkman & Stephens Celebrates 90th Anniversary
On October 28, 1929, Sparkman & Stephens was officially incorporated by the firm’s original members including Drake Sparkman, James Sparkman, Jr., Jason Murray, Rod Stephens, Jr. and Olin Stephens, II. An iconic partnership in naval architecture and yacht brokerage was formed. This month we celebrate being 90 years young with a look back at our heritage.
The firm’s original office was in City Island, NY at the Henry Nevins Boat Yard before moving to Manhattan years later. Note the “Drake Sparkman” name only on the photo of the City Island office. This was 1928, a year before Sparkman & Stephens was incorporated, the partnership waited nearly two years to incorporate until Olin turned 21. Today, Sparkman & Stephens is headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island with offices located at Newport Shipyard.
Roderick Stephens, Sr. (father to Olin and Rod Stephens) owned a coal delivery company in Westchester County, and sold it in 1929, just before the Great Crash of that year. This fortuitous timing eventually led to Rod, Sr.’s investment in DORADE, the yacht that put Sparkman & Stephens on a trajectory for success. Sparkman & Stephens was incorporated on October 28, 1929 – the day before Black Tuesday and the launch of The Great Depression.
DORADE is a legendary yacht in the annals of sailing history, a design that captured the world’s attention and never let go. Launched in 1930 from the Minneford Yacht Yard, the 52-foot yawl stunned the offshore racing community just one year later, finishing the Transatlantic Yacht Race a full two days ahead of the rest of the considerably larger field followed by a win in Fastnet Race that same year. Having endured 2 years of the Great Depression, New York was ready for a celebration and the crew of DORADE was treated to a press conference at City Hall, followed by a ticker tape parade up Broadway.
DORADE is Design No. 7, one of the earliest ever produced by Sparkman & Stephens, drawn by Olin Stephens when he was just 23 years old. DORADE’s design went on to influence countless new builds in offshore racing, and she included innovations such as deck-mounted ventilators – thereafter known as “dorades.”
She remains one of the most striking profiles on the water today and continues to have success in offshore racing and classic yacht regattas around the world.
Olin Stephens noted in the January 1928 issue of Yachting magazine “Though per se beauty is not a factor of speed, the easiest boats to look at seem to be the easiest to sail.” Sparkman & Stephens gained a reputation for rethinking yacht design blending art, science and redefining the opportunity for innovation. In his autobiography, ‘All This and Sailing, Too,’ Olin remarks “I started my career with the tools of observation and intuition to which quantitative analysis has been gradually added… Whenever possible I studied lines and tried to see the way shape was coupled to performance.” Olin’s scientific yacht design, using experiments and quantification of performance, came about because of his work with Kenneth S. M. Davidson of the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J. to develop a method for evaluating a design by towing models in water tanks. This marriage of art and science lead to principles of design, techniques and quantitative analysis that have pushed forward innovations in yacht design from the firm over the last 90 years.
Founded on October 28, 1929, the success of Sparkman & Stephens owes a great deal of credit to the faith and investment by Rod, Sr in DORADE and the luck of a great partnership amongst a talented team. As Olin recounted in his autobiography, “Drake and I were well aware that he could have bettered his earnings by selling existing boats, yet he continued to bring in the projects that were my support. I appreciate to this day all he did.” A balanced team, Drake Sparkman experienced business owner and well-connect salesman, Olin the quiet, calculated chief designer and Rod the gregarious head of constructing, rigging and testing.
Over the last 90 years, Sparkman & Stephens has produced over 2,800 designs including daysailers, ocean racers, cruising yachts, commercial vessels, power yachts, military boats, 12 Metres, J-Boats, 6 Metres, and numerous production yachts. Here in our 90th year, the legacy of the original team carries on today with our designers and yacht brokers delivering a vast range of yachts internationally.
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Riley Yuhas, Marketing Director, Sparkman & Stephens
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