Throughout its early history, whaling was the principal industry in Nantucket. As the whales began migrating away from Nantucket in the 1790s, the whaling industry was forced to employ larger ships that could withstand more arduous journeys to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. These bigger, heavier ships had trouble navigating the sand bar that ran across the mouth of the island’s harbor, causing many to run aground.
In early 1803, Nantucket petitioned the House for funds to carve a channel through the sandbar to allow for safe passage. The House responded with a resolution instructing the Department of the Treasury to conduct a survey of the harbor to determine the feasibility of the proposed channel. After reviewing the survey, the House did not fund the project, instead recommending further study. Nearly 80 years after the petition was submitted, Nantucket’s sandbar was finally conquered. In 1880, Congress approved an appropriation for construction of a jetty designed to harness the power of the tides to maneuver ships safely through the harbor. Construction of the first of two jetties was completed in 1884 and the second was finished in 1907.