"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 This model lacks many of the key features of Allen's design, most notably the central sliding floor, which has been replaced by two simple nets of string.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).