Born in Bristol, Rhode Island, was a naval architect-engineer. He revolutionized yacht design, and produced a succession of undefeated sailboats for the America's Cup Race between 1893–1920, now referred to as the "Herreshoff Period." The yachts he designed were the largest, most expensive and powerful ever created to defend yachting's supreme prize.
Herreshoff graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1870 with a 3 year degree in mechanical engineering, and took a position with the Corliss Steam Engine Company in Providence, Rhode Island. In the 1890s, Herreshoff favored designing sailing yachts. His brother, John Brown Herreshoff, had gone blind at 14, but nevertheless became chief executive of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, a boat-building establishment in Bristol that he ran together with "Capt. Nat," as Nathanael would be known.
The company created the first torpedo boats for the U.S. Navy, as well as launches and power boats. But they are best known for their sailing boats and yachts of exceeding grace, the hulls built upside-down, with a mold for every frame, and of the lightest possible materials available. The firm supplied vessels to the elite of its day, including Jay Gould, William Randolph Hearst, John Pierpont Morgan, Morton Plant, Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, and others
Herreshoff designed and built a wide range of craft, including the H-12 ½ or Bullseye class, a small sailboat to train children of yachtsmen, to the New York 30 class to the 143 foot (44 m) America's Cup behemoth, Reliance, with a sail area of 1600 m². The 123 foot (37 m) Defender was equally astounding, due to its radical construction; it featured steel-framing, bronze plating up to the waterline and aluminum topsides. As might be expected, when placed in the ocean's saline, the boat's galvanic corrosion was immediate. It won the race, then dissolved. It lasted only months.
Many of the over 2,000 designs by the "Wizard of Bristol" have fared better, and today are highly prized by connoisseurs of classic yachts. Herreshoff S-Class sailboats, designed in 1919 and built until 1941, are still actively racing in Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay and Western Long Island Sound.