Life Raft, Patent Model

Hervey C. Calkin submitted this life-raft model with his application for a patent in 1871.
Between 1790 and 1873, the U.S. Patent Office granted 163 patents for an amazing variety of life-preserving boats, rafts, clothing, and other gear. Many of them were clearly invented with an eye toward the rise in passenger travel: life-preserving bedsteads, berths, buckets, bucket rafts, buoys, capes, chairs, stools, dresses, doors, garments, hammocks, mattresses, trunks, and even a "life-preserving hat." Few of these inventions met with practical success.
"The object of this invention," Hervey Calkin wrote, "is to produce a life-raft that will always be ready for use in any emergency; that can be launched and used in the roughest seas; that can be cheaply made, and yet, from the peculiar manner of its construction, cannot be separated or torn apart by the elements so as to entirely destroy its buoyancy." Toward these ends, Calkin designed his raft symmetrically so "that it can be launched into the sea either side up." Its cylindrical floats were to be fashioned of commonly available riveted boiler iron, divided into compartments in case of damage, and watertight boxes were provided under the decks to hold provisions. It is not known if this raft was ever produced commercially.
Hervey Chittenden Calkin (1828-1913) was born in Malden, New York. At ag 19 he moved to New York City, where he worked at the Morgan Iron Works before going into business with his brothers. Late in 1852 he married Violetta Adeline Brant; they had two children together. He identified himself as a coppersmith in an 1870 business directory, but as a dry goods merchant in the 1880 census. The change is likely due to the failure and sale of A. F. Calkin and Bros. in 1875. His business activities reputedly included connections to shipping. He served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives (1869-71). His raft patent was issued after he left government service.
Currently not on view
Date made
patent date
Calkin, Hervey Chittenden
Associated Place
United States: New York
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 18 in x 6 in x 2 3/4 in; 45.72 cm x 15.24 cm x 6.985 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
patent number
Patent Models
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Work and Industry: Maritime
America on the Move
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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