Patent Model, Life Boat

Joseph Francis of New York (1801–93) made a name for himself in the 1840s and 1850s manufacturing light and sturdy corrugated-iron lifeboats and other nautical gear. This 1841 patent model shows his design for a wood or metal boat fitted with airtight copper tanks. These tanks were to be charged with gas or air to provide buoyancy and, in an emergency, would work in conjunction with several holes through the bottom of the boat. When the boat started taking on water in rough seas, the holes would be opened. That action, combined with the buoyancy of the tanks, would permit drainage.
The well-known inventors of mid-19th-century America—Elias Howe, Cyrus McCormick, and Samuel F. B. Morse—were celebrated as national benefactors. Aspiring inventors regarded applying for a patent not just as a key step on the road to potential wealth, but as a patriotic duty—a contribution to the country’s betterment and future. Solidly within this style, Joseph Francis confidently called his buoyant boat the “great American life boat.” He declared with pride that “the model and application of the buoyant power which I now claim . . . is the best and safest for life boats and all other boats and vessels . . . it is different from and an improvement on all former invention by me and any other person . . . .”
In fact, the 1841 patent represented by this model is but a minor alteration to his first patent, an 1839 design for a double-bottomed boat fitted with buoyant air cylinders. His second attempt simply added additional tanks to the boat’s ends and flattened the bottom of the hull to enable it “to sit upright when left by a retiring surge upon a rock bar or beach, where other modeled boats would be upset.”
Object Name
patent model, lifeboat
life boat, patent model
Date made
patent date
Francis, Joseph
Francis, Joseph
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
paint (surface material)
copper alloy (parts material)
ferrous (parts material)
overall: 4 1/4 in x 6 in x 26 1/2 in; 10.795 cm x 15.24 cm x 67.31 cm
associated place
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
On the Water exhibit
Expansion and Reform
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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