On the Water

Model of Weight for Stamping Metal

In the mid-1840s, Joseph Francis developed a new method for using steam-powered hydraulic presses to stamp large sheets of iron into corrugated shapes to make boat hulls. His 1845 patent model for the process does not survive, but in 1885 he donated models representing the various steps in manufacturing corrugated metal life boats. This object is a model of the weight used with dies for stamping out copper sheets.

Joseph Francis experimented with boat construction methods throughout his life. In collaboration with the Novelty Iron Works in New York, he began to manufacture lifeboats, military cutters, and coastal rescue craft, as well as life preservers and similar gear, in the 1840s. His products proved popular among commercial steamship operators, life-saving stations, and the United States Navy. The Collins Line of express passenger ships, for example, adopted Francis lifeboats for its opulent ocean steamers in the 1850s. When the Arctic sank with great loss of life in 1854—but its patented metallic lifeboats survived—the company ordered more Francis boats for its remaining ships.

Francis is best known today for designing an enclosed rescue craft called a life-car, the prototype for which is preserved by the Smithsonian. In 1848, the Patent Office denied him a patent for the life-car, saying it was already protected under Francis’s own 1845 patent.

ID Number:
Place Made:
United States: New York, New York
Gift of Joseph Francis