Windlasses were standard shipboard equipment for hauling and lifting, particularly on smaller vessels with insufficient deck space to operate a capstan. Because smaller boats also carried smaller crews, inventors sought to improve windlasses' labor-saving power by devising more efficient levers, pumping handles, and other arrangements for turning them. Frederick Allen's idea was to fit a windlass with a ratchet wheel. A lever equipped with two pawls could then be used to turn the windlass's barrel continuously.
Allen donated this model to the Smithsonian in December 1882 so that it could be included in the institution's exhibits at the 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition in London. The catalog of the exhibition noted, "Made with one double-acting lever and adapted for weighing anchors, hauling vessels from shores when stranded, setting up rigging, &c." Allen also donated a capstan model, another windlass model, and a model life raft for the exhibition. The latter two are still in the collection.
Frederick Slocum Allen was born on December 25, 1837, in Westport, Massachusetts. About 1843 his family made their home on Cuttyhunk Island. His father, Holden Allen, worked as a pilot in Buzzard's Bay, and Allen assisted him as a boat keeper in his youth and through his 20s. From November 1856 to mid-1860, he made a whaling voyage to the Arctic aboard the ship Saratoga, commanded by Frederick Slocum, presumably a brother of Allen's mother, Mary Devoll Slocum Allen. When he returned, Allen married Florencia C. Austin at Martha's Vineyard in November 1860. They raised one son, Frederick. In the 1870s, Allen "spent considerable time and money in improving windlasses," one biographer noted, and "he has given special attention to the saving of life from shipwreck." The 1880 Census lists him as a farmer, and for many years Allen served as a justice of the peace.
Frederick S. Allen, Windlass, patent no. 183,101, Oct. 10, 1876.
1880 United States Census, NARA film no. T9-0526, p. 543C.
G. Brown Goode, ed. "Descriptive Catalogues of the Collections sent from the United States to the International Fisheries Exhibition, London, 1883," Bulletin of the United States National Museum no. 27 (Washington, 1884), 725.
George H. Mackay, "The Terns of Penikese Island, Massachusetts," Auk, vol. 14, no. 3 (July 1897), 278-84.
John Rand, Biographies of One Thousand Representative Men of Massachusetts (Buffalo, 1890s).