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Hervey Calkin's life raft patent model, 1871

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Hervey Calkin's life raft patent model, 1871
Smithsonian Institution, Photo by Richard Strauss, Negative #: 2006-9722


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: 1870-1875

Marine Patent Models — Who's Inventing?

Marine Patent Models — Life boats and rafts

Life raft patent model
Catalog #: 308,550, Accession #: 89,797
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Hervey C. Calkin submitted this life-raft model with his application for a patent in 1871.

Physical Description

Calkin's model comprises two cylindrical metal floats with conical ends separated by a row of cross-braced metal spacers. Two wood-plank decks cover the spacers on top and bottom. Angled metal brackets above and below each float hold wood side rails in place. (One rail is missing.) Pairs of thole pins (for guiding oars), or holes to receive them, appear on each side rail. One rail contains sockets to stow unshipped thole pins. The model is 18" L x 6" W x 2 3/4" H.

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

Between 1790 and 1873, the U.S. Patent Office granted 163 patents for an amazing variety of life-preserving boats, rafts, clothing, and other gear. Many of them were clearly invented with an eye toward the rise in passenger travel: life-preserving bedsteads, berths, buckets, bucket rafts, buoys, capes, chairs, stools, dresses, doors, garments, hammocks, mattresses, trunks, and even a “life-preserving hat.” Few of these inventions met with practical success.

“The object of this invention,” Hervey Calkin wrote, “is to produce a life-raft that will always be ready for use in any emergency; that can be launched and used in the roughest seas; that can be cheaply made, and yet, from the peculiar manner of its con­struction, cannot be separated or torn apart by the elements so as to entirely destroy its buoy­ancy.” Toward these ends, Calkin designed his raft symmetrically so “that it can be launched into the sea either side up.” Its cylindrical floats were to be fashioned of commonly available riveted boiler iron, divided into compartments in case of damage, and watertight boxes were provided under the decks to hold provisions. It is not known if this raft was ever produced commercially.

Hervey Chittenden Calkin (1828-1913) was born in Malden, New York. At age 19, he moved to New York City where he worked at the Morgan Iron Works before going into business with his brothers. Late in 1852 he married Violetta Adeline Brant; they had two children together. He identified himself as a coppersmith in an 1870 business directory, but as a dry goods merchant in the 1880 census. The change is likely due to the failure and sale of A. F. Calkin and Bros. in 1875. His business activities reputedly included connections to shipping. He served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives (1869-71). His raft patent was issued after he left government service.


“Hervey Chittenden Calkin,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (

“Hervey Chittenden Calkin,” FamilySearch International Genealogical Index, (

The New York State Business Directory and Gazetteer, 1870, 258.

1880 United States Census, NARA film no. T9-0899, 46B.

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