Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Patent model for Allen's life raft

Enlarge Image
Patent model for Allen's life raft
Photo by Hugh Talman, Negative #: 2006-23082


This object appears in the following sections:

Marine Patent Models — Complete Catalog: 1881-present

Marine Patent Models — Life boats and rafts

Patent model for Allen's life raft
Patent model for Allen's life raft

Envelope with stamps showing Allen's life raft assembled and stowed, 1880s
Envelope with stamps showing Allen's life raft assembled and stowed, 1880s

Patent drawing for Allen's life raft
Patent drawing for Allen's life raft

Life raft model
Catalog #: 160,184, Accession #: 12,246
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Farmer and sailor Frederick S. Allen of Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, was granted a patent on a new life raft in 1881. The next year, Capt. Joseph Collins, the man charged with assembling material about American fishermen and fishing vessels for the Smithsonian's exhibits at the 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition, asked Allen to donate a model of his life raft for display. This is the model Allen sent.

Physical Description

This model is wood with metal fastenings.

Date Made:
about 1881
Cuttyhunk Island
Gift of Frederick S. Allen

"The object of my invention," Frederick Allen wrote, "is to provide a new and improved life-raft, which is made of very few parts, can be folded and disconnected for storage, or built up for use very easily, and is so constructed that either side will serve as a top, which can be provided with railing, mast, and rowlocks, and with a floor raised a short distance above the water." To these ends, Allen devised a raft with two triangular frames joined at the corners to casks or barrels. In the middle of the raft was a sliding floor, which could be pulled as needed to either side of the craft. Other equipment included a mast and sail, oars, and folding stanchions to support manropes.

The Smithsonian's model is not, strictly speaking, the "patent model" for Allen's invention. That was deposited at the Patent Office in Washington when he applied for his patent. This model lacks many of the key features of Allen's design, most notably the central sliding floor, which has been replaced by two simple nets of string.

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, he 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. "He has given special attention to the saving of life from shipwreck, and in 1887, at the International Maritime Exposition at Havre, France, he was awarded a silver medal for a reversible lifeboat." The 1880 Census lists him as a farmer, and for many years he served as a justice of the peace.


Frederick S. Allen, Life-Raft, U.S. patent no. 240,634, Apr. 24, 1881.

1880 United States Census, NARA film no. T9-0526, 543C.

G. Brown Goode, ed. "Descriptive Catalogues of the Collections sent from the United States to the International Fisheries Exhibition, London, 1883," in 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).

National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | E-mail Signup | Credits