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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Joseph Francis

FRANCIS, Joseph, inventor, born in Boston, Massachusetts, 12 March 1801. At eleven years of age he exhibited a fancy boat at a fair, and at the age of eighteen received from the Massachusetts mechanics' institute the first prize for a fast rowboat. He afterward established a boatyard in New York, and was requested by the secretary of the navy to go to Portsmouth navy yard and build wooden lifeboats for the frigate "Santee " and the line-of-battle ship "Alabama." Soon after this he invented a portable boat that could be taken apart, and a method of building boats over a frame or mould with inch square strips of cedar nailed edge to edge, the joining showing neither nail heads or seams, and requiring no calking. These boats, all of which were lifeboats, came into general use. His greatest achievements were in the construction of lifesaving appliances. These consisted of lifeboats, life cars, and surf lifeboats. Of the lifeboats the first that he made was of wood, and was called the "Hydrogen " lifeboat. The interior was fitted with copper air tubes, and the invention proved successful. As a result of later experiments, the use of wood in the construction of his boats quickly gave way to iron, although the use of iron in the manufacture of vessels of any kind was practically unknown at that time. To Mr. Francis may be conceded the first use of iron floating vessels.

Another improvement was added by having the spaces at the bow and stern of the boats made into reservoirs of air, as well as the spaces at the sides, enabling the boat to sustain a great load in the heaviest sea. In 1838 Mr. Francis invented the life car by which to land people safely from a wreck. He began with experiments on wooden lifeboats, and finally, in 1842, invented the corrugated metallic life car, with space for four adults. His first perfect metallic life car was placed on the coast of New Jersey, near Long Branch, in the autumn of 1849, at his own expense, the government refusing to aid him in any way. The boat was not called into use until January 1850, when the British emigrant vessel "Ayrshire" was wrecked on Squan Beach in a violent winter storm. There were 201 persons on board, and 200 were saved by means of the life car. The one loss of life that occurred was that of a man who insisted on attempting to ride through the surf on the outside of the ear, when his family was inside. This car was for a long time preserved in the museum in Central park, New York, but on 10 July 1885, it was deposited, as a relic, in the National museum in Washington.

During the first four years of the use of lifeboats (1850'3) they were instrumental in saving 2,150 lives, besides an immense amount of valuable cargo. Mr. Francis's metallic life surfboat, invented in 1845, was designed for riding lightly on the wildest sea. In 1845 Mr. Francis obtained patents in the United States, England, France, Germany, and Russia, for his method of constructing vessels of corrugated sheet metal, and for the machinery by which they were produced. His inventions for the machinery and for the application of the hydraulic press were adjuncts of the greatest importance. He furnished lifeboats built on the principle of the corrugated sheet metal for the Dead Sea and Arctic expeditions, to the war, navy, and treasury departments, and to several European governments. Mr. Francis has extended the application of corrugated metal to the building of steamers, floating docks, harbor buoys, and pontoon wagons, and every civilized country has adopted his inventions.

Among his many other inventions are a military hood made of cloth for the protection of sentinels in a storm, a circular yacht, and a double joint rowlock. He has received numerous medals and decorations from European sovereigns. The order of knighthood of St. Stanislaus, with its medal and diploma, was conferred upon him in 1861, and on 4 February 1856, he received a gold snuffbox, diamond studded, and valued at 17,500 francs, from Napoleon III. He has also received a large number of medals from the American and other institutes, a medal and diploma from the European shipwreck society for all nations, in France in 1842, and a second in England, designated " Benefactor," by the Imperial Royal European society, on 1 July 1842. In addition to these honors from foreign countries, congress, in March 1887, a few hours before its adjournment, passed a joint resolution thanking him for his " lifelong services to humanity and to his country," and authorizing the president to present him with a gold medal. But President Cleveland withheld his signature from the bill until the specified time after the adjournment, and Mr. Francis thus failed to receive the gold medal awarded him. He has written many articles for periodicals, and has published " Lifesaving Appliances" (New York, 1885).

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