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Model man-of-war cutter by Joseph Francis, 1846

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Model man-of-war cutter by Joseph Francis, 1846
Smithsonian Institution


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: before 1850

Marine Patent Models — Building Ships

Model man-of-war cutter, bow decoration
Model man-of-war cutter, bow decoration

Model man-of-war cutter, stern decoration
Model man-of-war cutter, stern decoration

Man-of-war cutter model
Catalog #: 1645.1 (204,636) , Accession #: 16,136
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection
Joseph Francis made a name for himself in the 1840s and '50s-and built a successful business-manufacturing light and sturdy iron lifeboats and other nautical gear. This patriotically decorated model shows how he made his boats using grooved metal plates, a process he patented in 1845.
Physical Description

Corrugated copper boat model with four oars and rudder. Lettering on the sides reads, "U.S. Patent Metallic Life-Boat."

Date Made:
New York

Gift of Joseph Francis


Joseph Francis is best known today for designing an enclosed rescue craft called a life-car, which was widely deployed in coastal life-saving stations in the second half of the nineteenth century. His first life-car was used to spectacular effect in the rescue of all but one of the passengers and crew of the immigrant vessel Ayrshire, which ran aground on the New Jersey shore in a storm in January 1850. When the life-car came to the Smithsonian in 1885, Francis donated with it a pair of model stamping dies and this cutter model to demonstrate the process he'd developed in the 1840s to manufacture metal boats.

He explained, "Commodore Charles W. Skinner, Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repairs, in 1846, desired to order copper man of war cutters, on the corrugated system, for all the frigates of the Navy-such as the frigates Mississippi, Missouri. The conditions were that these copper cutters, 28 and 30 feet long, should be precisely like the wooden cutters [then in use]. My conditions were that he should give me a perfect model. I made from the model of wood he gave me a set of cast-iron corrugated-dies, 30 inches long, and made from these beautiful models of brass, which were approved....I made 100 models to distribute over the United States and Europe, as samples of the system." This model is the last of those 100 that Francis kept.


Joseph Francis, Making Boats and Other Vessels of Sheet-Iron, U.S. patent no. 3,974, Mar. 26, 1845.

Letter, Joseph Francis to G. Brown Goode, Dec. 19 1890, NMAH accession file no. 16,136.

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