Widgets Death by Boat: What Used to Scare America

Death by Boat: What Used to Scare America

Tremberger and Stein Life Boat Model

 This life boat model designed by George Tremberger and Michael Joseph Stein of New York City in 1879 is from the National Museum of American History’s collection of lifeboat and raft patent models, part of their America on the Move website and exhibit.  This particular boat is unique with a telescoping mast and an interior cabin that is separated from the exterior hull and connected with gearing.  With this arrangement, the crew can adjust the angle of the entire interior cabin for the comfort of the passengers.

Cutaway of rotating cabin

While lifeboats remain an essential piece of modern marine life for obvious reasons, they were an object of great attention in previous centuries. 

During the 1700 and 1800s, increased trade and passenger traffic placed greater numbers of people on the water, and better communication made more people aware of the accidents that happened. These trends combined with ideas from the Enlightenment that individual lives had worth and were worth saving, and that technology could apply science to overcome obstacles. One result was a surge in the creation and use of life-saving devices on both ship and shore. [full text]

In particular:

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. [full text]

These lifeboat models are great example of innovative thinking about the problems faced by people evacuating ships.  A few have the ability to handle rough seas by taking on water as ballast.  Some can be simply thrown overboard (floating either way up) rather than lowered by crane.  Be sure to explore the rest of that exhibit site as there are many fascinating objects.  Of particular note is a patent model for inflatable rubber-cloth chambers allowing on-demand floatation by Abraham Lincoln, the only president ever to have a registered patent.

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