The History of Ship Figureheads

By Karen Harris
Nautical figurehead of Norwegian sail training ship Christian Radich, a tall ship participating in the Tall Ships Races 2016 arrival day on July 22, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal. Source: (Photo by Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ever wonder why all the ships from long ago had a carved figure of a woman, animal, or warrior on their bows? These maidenheads, or figureheads, served as the face of the ship as it was plowing through the water. They were a symbolic figure – which is why today, we use the term ‘figurehead’ to mean a leader without real power or authority – meant to protect the sailors, bring good omens, and intimidate the enemies. Here is the unique history of figureheads.