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 levers upward and downward strokes.
Allen donated this model to the Smithsonian in December 1882 so that it could be included in the institutions 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.
Allens 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 Allens 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 Buzzards 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 Allens mother, Mary Devoll Slocum Allen. When he returned, Allen married Florencia C. Austin at Marthas 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).