Patent Model, Life Raft

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This model represents a raft made up of four rows of watertight sheet-metal cylinders enclosed by two wood decks and fastened together with metal bolts. It was submitted to the U.S. Patent Office in 1874 by George Clark, of Ecorse, Michigan, to accompany his design for an improved life raft.
A contemporary compiler of accidents noted 1,167 marine accidents on the Great Lakes for the year 1871 alone. “Of this number, 225 were caused by collisions,” he clarified, “280 vessels went ashore, 81 were burned, 26 capsized, 19 foundered, 182 sprung a leak, 65 waterlogged, 60 were dismasted, 110 lost deck-loads, and 10 exploded their boilers.” In the context of these harsh statistics, some inventors looked for ways to prevent accidents, while others sought ways to preserve life after the accident had occurred. George Clark was aiming for the second goal with this raft. He wrote, “The nature of this invention . . . has for its object the preservation of life in case of disaster at sea, by making the raft very buoyant, thoroughly protecting the float-cylinders, so they will not be injured under any ordinary circumstances, and furnishing a much more durable, a lighter, and more easily handled raft than those heretofore in use for this purpose.”
Clark envisioned these rafts carried on the hurricane decks of steamers, where they would be easily accessible in a disaster. The materials and construction made for a fairly lightweight raft, which could be thrown into the water “by one or two persons of ordinary strength, thus avoiding the delay and uncertainty of working falls and cranes in launching boats.” Because both sides of the raft were the same, it didn’t matter how it was tossed into the water. Clark acknowledged that cylindrical floats were already in use for other life rafts, but they tended to be much longer, extending the raft’s entire length or breadth. Under heavy conditions at sea, these long floats could have worked loose and destroyed the raft. Clark claimed that his use of shorter cylinders, arranged in courses and enclosed by the wooden decks, were less likely to cause such an accident, while providing the raft with greater flexibility.
Date made
patent date
Clark, George
Clark, George
home of patentee
United States: Michigan, Ecorse
life rafts of this patent were used
Great Lakes
associated place
United States: Michigan, Ecorse
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
wood (overall material)
rubber (overall material)
overall: 13 1/4 in x 6 3/8 in x 1 1/2 in; 33.655 cm x 16.1925 cm x 3.81 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
related event
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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