Patent Swivel Oar Locks or Rowlocks

Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
Dan's comment at and our recent conversation about oar locks has lead me off down another research rabbit hole. It turns out that there have been thousands of patents over the years for oar locks and rowlocks. This really seems absurd because the concept isn't that complex. The Egyptians, Greeks, Vikings, and others solved this problem many thousands of years ago with a simple loop of cord or a slot in the gunwale.

However, neither of us have been able to locate a patent that precisely matches the ones commonly found on old boats and sold now at by Shaw & Tenney. The closest patent appears to be from 1864 which was reissued in 1865 as shown at under number 1846. I've not been able to find much information about Captain Joseph W. Norcross in either Boston, Massachusetts or Middletown, Connecticut although he did patent a number of other things.

The comment shown below from page 768 of the 1884 book at indicates that the Wilcox, Crittenden & Company version of the swivel rowlock was based on the Norcross patent from 1864. This probably also shows that the Smithsonian Museum is likely to have a very old one stored away somewhere.

Please reply here or let me know if anyone ever finds a closer patent match for these or an old Wilcox, Crittenden & Company catalog that shows them. Thanks,


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Dan Miller

cranky canoeist
Staff member
That is pretty much it, if you leave off the return spring. Easy to see why the spring would have been left off, as it complicates installation, and probably didn't work all that well.