Whaling was a prominent global industry in the nineteenth century and the United States was dominant. By 1850 there were about 900 whaling ships in the world and 700 of these were American. Rates of return on capital were high compared to benchmark investments, at least in the early years of the nineteenth century. The whaling industry was one of the earliest to grapple with complex issues in relation to the provision of high-risk investment capital, syndication, organizational form, ownership structure, incentives, team building and principal-agent tradeoffs. It represents an important starting-point for exploring the origins of American entrepreneurship and venture financing.