On the Water

Abraham Lincoln Patent Model Replica

Abraham Lincoln had considerable maritime background, although it is usually eclipsed by his political heritage. At the age of 19 in Anderson Creek, Ind., he built a flatboat for $24, loaded it with a local farmer’s produce, and floated it 1,000 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, where he sold both the boat and its cargo. When he was 22, he was hired by an Illinois store owner to take some goods down the Mississippi and sell them in New Orleans. Lincoln built another flatboat and successfully piloted it from New Salem, Ill. to New Orleans over a three-month period.

In the mid-1840s, as a lawyer in Springfield, Ill., his law partner William Herndon recalled watching Lincoln working on a large boat model with a local craftsman. A Springfield resident recalled Lincoln demonstrating the idea for his model in public. His model embodies an idea Lincoln had for raising vessels over shoal waters by increasing their buoyancy. That idea became patent #6,469 in May 1849—the only patent ever obtained by an American president. After he became president in 1860 and moved to Washington, he visited his model in the nearby Patent Office at least once. He also enjoyed reviewing naval vessels and ideas, and he personally approved inventor John Ericsson’s idea for the ironclad warship Monitor.

Lincoln’s original patent model was acquired by the Smithsonian in 1908 and has left the Mall only once since then, for an exhibit at the US Patent Office. This replica was built by the Smithsonian in 1978 for long-term display to preserve the fragile original.

ID Number:
TR*336769
Date:
1978
Dimensions:
26 3/4 x 5 x 10 1/2 in.; 67.95 x 12.7 x 26.67 cm

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