Patent Model, Life Boat

Although Joseph Francis is the best-known inventor of lifesaving boats in the 19th century, other people from diverse walks of life developed their own ideas for improving safety at sea. Among these were two fishermen from Peaks Island near Portland, Maine, Alpheus G. and Abram T. Sterling, who patented their design for lifeboat improvements in 1874.
In the Sterlings’ design, the hold below the boat’s watertight deck was fitted with a rubber “air reservoir,” which conformed to the shape of the boat. A series of “apertures,” or openings, in the hull allowed water into the space around the air-filled chamber. This water-ballast helped the boat resist capsizing while air sealed inside rubber fenders and in a second interior chamber preserved the vessel’s buoyancy. The rubber air-filled reservoir was also meant to prevent the boat’s sinking if it hit an obstruction.
Object Name
lifeboat, model
patent model, lifeboat
Date made
patent date
Sterling, Alpheus G.
Sterling, Abram T.
Sterling, Alpheus G.
Sterling, Abram T.
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
rubber (fitting material)
copper alloy (fitting material)
overall: 4 in x 20 in x 7 in; 10.16 cm x 50.8 cm x 17.78 cm
home of patentees
United States: Maine, Portland
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
patent number
On the Water exhibit
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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