January 16, 1927–March 24, 2016 …
The trustees and staff of the National Maritime Historical Society mourn the loss of Peter Stanford, NMHS president emeritus, longtime friend, and generous benefactor. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Norma, and to all the members of the Stanford family. We are truly thankful for his extraordinary contributions to preserve the maritime heritage of the United States. Peter Stanford was a national treasure—and will be greatly missed.
Fair winds, Peter.
Peter Stanford, President Emeritus, National Maritime Historical Society
Peter Stanford, the founding president of South Street Seaport Museum in New York, founding chair emeritus of the Working Harbor Committee, and the long-time president of the National Maritime Historical Society, passed away on Thursday, 24 March 2016, at the age of 89. Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1927, he served in the US Navy in World War II as a radioman third class. After the war, he earned a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard in 1949 and a master’s degree from King’s College, Cambridge, England, in 1951. He then worked for a year and a half at the Economists’ Book Shop in London, while pursuing naval research at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
On return to the United States in 1952, he went to work as a copy editor at the publishing firm of Alfred A. Knopf before moving to Alfred Politz Research in 1954. From there he went to McCann-Erickson Advertising, then to Ogilvy & Mather, Hicks & Geist and Compton Advertising. As a copy supervisor, he achieved notoriety with his advertising campaigns for Beefeater Gin and International Paper, including Beefeater’s “Grownups’ Hour” ads.
In autumn of 1966, Peter and his wife, Norma, established the Friends of the South Street Maritime Museum, a citizen committee to organize a maritime museum in Manhattan’s historic waterfront neighborhood. The little group was launched with a fee of just one dollar for new members; the now-famous dollar memberships made it easy to join, and encouraged a sense of having a stake in the cause. This drive to get people personally involved would be a recurring theme in Peter’s projects, motivating people to participate in letter-writing campaigns, to volunteer to work on historic vessels, to found organizations where, before, there had been none. Dedicated to recreating the “Street of Ships” that played such a key role in New York’s emergence as a business capital, in the spring of 1967 they founded the South Street Seaport Museum in a warehouse space on Fulton Street. The Stanfords guided the museum through its early years, and Peter remained president of the museum until the spring of 1976, when he resigned to take up full-time work with the National Maritime Historical Society, growing the Society’s nascent quarterly magazine, Sea History, and pursuing several important ship-saving efforts. He lent his considerable energy and voice to the efforts to save the schooner Ernestina (now Ernestina-Morrissey), the barque Elissa, the Liberty ship John W. Brown, the lightship Ambrose, the brigantine Black Pearl, the fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard, and the great sailing ship Wavertree. He was also instrumental in the founding of the World Ship Trust, and he co-founded and organized Operation Sail 76, a national tall ship event that caught the country’s imagination as we marked our bicentennial, and the Statue of Liberty Parade of Sail in 1986.
Peter Stanford’s profound contributions to the maritime heritage community spanning more than fifty years have been recognized with awards from Mystic Seaport, American Merchant Mariners Museum, India House, Working Waterfront Alliance, the USS Constitution Museum, the National Park Service Foundation, the Municipal Art Society, the Parks Council and the Port Promotion Association; and he was awarded an honorary doctor of letters from the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler. He was the author of hundreds of magazine articles and a number of museum books; Peter and Norma Stanford published their last book, A Dream of Tall Ships—How New Yorkers came together to save the city’s sailing-ship waterfront, with Sea History Press in 2013.
He is survived by his wife, Norma, five children and their children. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to the National Maritime Historical Society and South Street Seaport.
In lieu of flowers, Stanford family requests donations be made to the National Maritime Historical Society and the South Street Seaport Museum.