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Model of F. S. Allen's hand windlass

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Model of F. S. Allen's hand windlass
Smithsonian Institution, Photo by Richard Strauss, Negative #: 2006-9754


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: 1876-1880

Marine Patent Models — Working the boat

Patent drawing for F. S. Allen's hand windlass
Patent drawing for F. S. Allen's hand windlass

Frederick S. Allen of Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, 1880s
Frederick S. Allen of Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, 1880s

Hand windlass model
Catalog #: 160,185, Accession #: 12,246
Currently on display
From the Smithsonian Collection

Farmer and sailor Frederick S. Allen of Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, received a patent for an improved windlass design in 1876. This is one of two models held by the Smithsonian that demonstrate his invention.

Physical Description

This demonstration model is made predominantly of wood and measures 14 1/2" L x 12" H x 11 1/2" W. Its base is covered on all sides by writing proclaiming it the work of Frederick Allen and associating it with Allen's 1876 patent.

Date Made:
after 1876
Cuttyhunk Island
Gift of Frederick S. Allen

Windlasses were standard shipboard equipment at the time Frederick Allen received his patent for an improved one in 1876. Used for hauling heavy lines and raising anchors, particularly on smaller vessels where there was no room for a capstan and its spread of bars, windlasses were usually turned by brute force using some arrangement of levers. Allen suggested the idea of a double-acting lever that would turn the windlass on both the lever’s upward and downward strokes.

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. He donated at the same time a second windlass model, a capstan model, and a model life raft.

Allen’s two windlass mock-ups for the London Exhibition represent slightly different applications of his 1876 idea. This model, the larger and more complicated of the two, shows a pair of levers working a pair of ratchet wheels. A contemporary description called it, without further explanation, “especially adapted to fishing vessels.” It is not, strictly speaking, the “patent model” for Allen’s invention, which was held by the Patent Office in Washington (and does not appear to have been among the models destroyed in the September 1877 Patent Office fire).

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 he 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).

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