Webb Institute of Naval Architecture was founded in 1889 by industrialist and philanthropist William Henry Webb, who had established his career as a preeminent shipbuilder in the 19th century. He recognized the increasing role of science and engineering in the field of ship design, which had long been seen as more of an art form. Webb felt that the ship designers of the future would need to be skilled in structural and mechanical engineering, and other scientific disciplines. The institute graduated its first class in 1893, and continues to educate students in naval architecture and marine engineering.
On April 2, 1889, the state of New York incorporated Webb's Academy and Home for Shipbuilders as a non-profit institution. Webb had provided the Academy with an endowment presumed to be sufficient to allow the institution to be self-supporting in perpetuity. It was intended to serve not only as an educational institution for future naval architects, but also as a retirement home for aged shipbuilders.
Webb commissioned New York architect Arthur P. Jennings to design a building for the institution to be built on 14 acres (5.7 ha) of land on a bluff overlooking the Harlem and Hudson rivers in the Bronx. Construction commenced in 1890 and was completed in 1893. The building was designed in the Romanesque style and was built of New York brownstone. It was intended to be "a romantic version of a medieval castle", with turrets, fanciful carving, and other flourishes. This facility was used for 50 years.
During World War II, the institute was closely associated with the U.S. Navy as a training center for naval officers.
By 1945, the Board of Trustees determined that the Bronx campus was no longer suitable and relocation was necessary. The Institute needed new laboratory facilities unavailable at the Bronx facility and they were able to sell the Bronx facility for a considerable sum.
The Institute chose to acquire The Braes, the former country estate of Herbert L. Pratt, in Glen Cove on the North Shore of Long Island. Designed by James Brite and constructed between 1912 and 1914, the main house had a distinct H-shaped layout and Jacobean, Tudor, and Renaissance-influenced design elements that made it distinct among Long Island estates of the era. It was the largest of the six Pratt estates in Glen Cove. The estate was purchased in November 1945 and conversion work began in 1946.
In April 1947, classes began at the new campus in Glen Cove. The main building had been renovated to include classrooms, dormitories, and offices. A model basin and gymnasium were constructed elsewhere on the campus. The main building was renamed Stevenson Taylor Hall in honor of the charter member and President of the Board of Trustees (1900–1926) of the institute. Through the conversion, the ground floor of Stevenson Taylor Hall retained much of the original 1915-era decor.
A modern library and auditorium were added to the campus in 1971. Webb admitted women as students in 1974.
Webb Institute was used for the exterior shots of Wayne Manor in the 1995 film Batman Forever, again in the 1997 film Batman & Robin, and for both interior and exterior shots for the 2014 TV series Gotham as well as being featured in the 1998 film Great Expectations. Interior and exterior shots appeared in the 2015 TV series Limitless in Season 1 Episode 14.
There have been seventeen administrators of the institute since its establishment in 1893
The student body of Webb Institute typically numbers around 90, with 12% being female. Webb currently has 10 full-time faculty members and no teaching assistants. Students have high access to professors, who routinely make themselves available at most hours. Adjunct faculty from local colleges teach some humanities courses at Webb such as Political Philosophy and Japanese.
There are four identical classrooms, one for each class. The school is atypical as the professors, rather than students, rotate to each classroom, because of its small size. The front portion of the classroom is dedicated to lecture hours, while the rear has rows of drafting tables, one for each student, along with bookshelves and couches for 24-7 personalized study space.
The centerpiece of Webb's academic facilities is the 90-foot (27 m)-long model ship model basin, which is frequently used by students and faculty alike for experiments and research. Webb Institute has its own physics and chemistry laboratories, an extensive library, an engineering lab for mechanical and electrical experiments, a carpentry shop, and a machine shop. Students have limited around-the-clock access to these facilities. There is an emphasis throughout Webb's academic program on hands-on experience, and several classes require conducting experiments or building and testing models.
Academically, the coursework is intense. Students spend 5 hours a day in lecture, and can spend several hours a day doing homework and studying. During the mandatory internship period from January through February each year, students seek positions in the maritime industry, including shipyards, design offices, and aboard merchant vessels. All seniors are required to complete a senior thesis. Seniors are strongly encouraged to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, in which they usually perform exceptionally well.
85% of incoming students make it to graduation. Many graduates establish careers in the maritime industry, with a 100% job placement. Graduates also forge careers in other engineering fields, or find success in finance or law. About a third of each graduating class goes on to pursue an advanced degree. Webb has an active alumni association which supports graduates, fosters a thriving social network, and maintains an alumni fund. The alumni giving rate is over 70%, one of the highest rates in the United States.
Because of the founder's endowment, students who are U.S. citizens are not charged tuition at Webb. They must pay for other costs, such as room and board, books, and various fees. The Bachelor of Science degree is awarded after four years of "total immersion" study, which includes several months of job experience through internship periods.
Webb Institute has been highly rated by Princeton Review in the category of specialty engineering colleges. The institute maintains close relationships with the United States Merchant Marine Academy, the State University of New York Maritime College, and the Cooper Union.
Winter Work is Webb Institute's term for its unique internship periods. Webb students are required to work in certain areas of the marine industry for 8 weeks during the months of January and February. Freshmen act as apprentices/mechanics in shipyards or boatyards, and sophomores as cadets/observers at sea. Juniors and seniors perform internships in various engineering firms and design offices. By the time students graduate, they have 8 months of work experience. Recently, Winter Work has become increasingly more global, with several students traveling overseas to China, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, and the United Arab Emirates.
Webb Institute is a four-year fully accredited engineering college. It is accredited by ABET and Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Students are generally required to live on campus for all four years. The mansion houses both male dorms and the four large classrooms. The adjacent two buildings, Motley and The Tank, house the female dorms. Webb Institute has no fraternities or sororities. There is a student-run Social Committee at Webb that holds several parties throughout the year, the biggest event being "Webbstock," a music festival held in June on the mansion's terraces overlooking the Long Island Sound.
The student body adheres to an Honor Code, which prohibits lying, cheating, and stealing. The Student Organization administers the Honor Code, operates the student treasury, oversees social activities, and serves as liaison between students and the school administration.
Webb has five intercollegiate athletic teams: Sailing is year-round; Soccer and Basketball in the fall; and Volleyball and Tennis in the spring.
Students have many options for recreation during their studies. The school has its own yacht club, automotive workshop, and English pub. Intercollegiate sports include sailing, tennis, soccer, volleyball, ultimate, and basketball. New York City is an hour away by the Long Island Rail Road. There are many student-led activity clubs on campus as well, both sporting and intellectual.