Life car invented by Joseph Francis, 1847
Founder of the U.S. Life-Saving Service and inventor of this life car for transporting shipwreck victims to shore, Joseph Francis was one of the nineteenth century's greatest heroes. In 1890 the National Museum acquired the Francis life car used to rescue 199 passengers from the wreck of the Ayrshire in 1850. Francis asked that "the relic may be preserved as sacred which has performed an unparalleled feat in saving so many lives." It was one of the most popular exhibits on display at the turn of the twentieth century and included on every list of Smithsonian treasures. But as maritime disasters became less common, Francis's fame diminished, and the life car was moved into a smaller exhibit on disasters at sea.
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