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Patent model of George Clark's life raft, 1874

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Patent model of George Clark's life raft, 1874
Smithsonian Institution, Photo by Richard Strauss, Negative #: 2006-9714


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: 1870-1875

Marine Patent Models — Life boats and rafts

Life raft patent model
Catalog #: 325,945, Accession #: 249,602
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection
Physical Description

The model represents a raft comprising four rows of water-tight sheet-metal cylinders enclosed by two wood decks and fastened together with metal bolts. It measures 13 1/4" L x 6 3/8" W x 1 1/2" D.

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

A contemporary compiler of accidents noted 1,167 marine accidents on the Great Lakes for the year 1871 alone. "Of this number, 225 were caused by collisions," he clarified, "280 vessels went ashore, 81 were burned, 26 capsized, 19 foundered, 182 sprung a leak, 65 waterlogged, 60 were dismasted, 110 lost deck-loads, and 10 exploded their boilers." Against this background, some inventors looked for ways to prevent accidents, while others sought ways to preserve life during accidents. George Clark of Ecorse, Michigan, joined the second group when he wrote, "The nature of this invention relates to cer­tain improvements in the construction of life­saving rafts, and has for its object the pres­ervation of life in case of disaster at sea, by making the raft very buoyant, thoroughly protecting the float-cylinders, so they will not be injured under any ordinary circumstances, and furnishing a much more durable, a lighter, and more easily handled raft than those here­tofore in use for this purpose."

"It is the design to have these rafts kept on the hurricane-decks of steamers, whence they may readily be thrown into the water by one or two persons of ordinary strength, thus avoiding the delay and uncertainty of work­ing falls and cranes in launching boats. Both sides of the raft being alike, it makes no dif­ference which side is up when thrown into the water. I am aware that cylindrical floats are used; but these extend the whole length or breadth of the raft. These, being confined within a frame under certain circumstances, and being rigid, might, in a sea, have the effect of levers to pry the frame-work of the raft to pieces. I adopt the short cylinders connected together in the manner described, and laid in courses, to prevent such an accident, and give greater flexibility to the raft."


George Clark, Life-Raft, U.S. patent no. 146,316, Jan. 13, 1874.

J. W. Hall, Marine Disasters of the Western Lakes during the Navigation of 1871 (Detroit, 1872).

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