Patent Model, Life Boat

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
Object Type
Patent Model
Other Terms
patent model, lifeboat; lifeboat; Maritime
Date made
patent date
Francis, Joseph
Francis, Joseph
associated place
United States: New York, New York City
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
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
Expansion and Reform
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object