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Patent model of Joseph Francis's 1841 life boat

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Patent model of Joseph Francis's 1841 life boat
Smithsonian Institution


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: before 1850

Marine Patent Models — Building Ships

Marine Patent Models — Life boats and rafts

Patent model of Joseph Francis's 1841 life boat
Patent model of Joseph Francis's 1841 life boat

Patent drawing for Joseph Francis's 1841 life boat
Patent drawing for Joseph Francis's 1841 life boat

Life boat patent model
Catalog #: 308,452, Accession #: 89,797
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Joseph Francis of New York (1801-93) made a name for himself in the 1840s and '50s manufacturing light and sturdy iron lifeboats and other nautical gear. This 1841 patent model shows his design for a wood or metal boat fitted with a airtight copper tanks. These tanks were to be charged with gas or air to provide buoyancy, while several holes through the bottom of the boat, "being opened when the boat is filled with water by shipping a sea or otherwise," worked with the buoyant tanks to allow drainage.

Physical Description

The model measures 26 1/2" L x 6" W x 4 1/4" D.

Date Made:
New York
Transfer from the U.S. Patent Office

The well-known inventors of mid-nineteenth-century America-Elias Howe, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel F. B. Morse-were celebrated as national benefactors. Aspiring inventors regarded applying for a patent not just as a key step on the road to potential wealth, but as a patriotic duty-a contribution to the country's betterment and future. Solidly within this style, Joseph Francis confidently called his buoyant boat the "great American life boat." He declared with pride that "the model and application of the buoyant power which I now the best and safest for life boats and all other boats and is different from and an improvement on all former invention by me and any other person...."

In fact, the 1841 patent represented by this model is but a minor alteration to his first patent, an 1839 design for a double-bottomed boat fitted with buoyant air cylinders. His second attempt simply added additional tanks to the boat's ends and flattened the bottom of the hull, to enable it "to sit upright when left by a retiring surge upon a rock bar or beach, where other modeled boats would be upset."


Joseph Francis, Life Boat, U.S. patent no. 2,018, Mar. 26, 1841.

Joseph Francis, Life and Anchor Boat, U.S. patent no. 1,067, Jan. 11, 1839.

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