This Place in History: American system of manufacturing

Vermont Historical Society

Video News

WINDSOR, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History‘ we’re in Windsor, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society, Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to be talking about the American system, the idea of interchangeability and interchangeable parts. A lot of that was developed right here in Windsor. So, we’re going to go inside the American Precision Museum and speak to their director Steve Dalessio and he’s going to tell us all about it,” began Perkins.

“If you go back to the mid-1800s, if you had a gun and were on the battlefield somewhere and you broke a part, there’s no corner store to go get a part from, just like it is today. There are so many places to get replaceable parts for everything in our lives. So, you would have to find a gunsmith somewhere to hand fabricate a part,” began Dalessio.

“Around the 1850s or so, the U.S. government was saying we don’t want that to happen anymore. We want to have guns that are made with all interchangeable parts. And, they were beginning to add to the contracts for guns, a requirement to have interchangeable parts. And that’s really what started this whole idea of interchangeability.”

“Here in the American Precision Museum, which was the Robbins and Lawrence Armory, Robbins and Lawrence actually tried to move this whole process forward to the American system of manufacturing, which was really the idea of interchangeable parts and precision manufacturing. And, they started to create and to move forward some of the equipment that was built, machine tools that were built and designed to be able to make gun parts interchangeable,” explained Dalessio.

“This is our gunstock lathe. If you can picture in the 1840s or so, someone trying to build a gunstock with a knife and a file and so forth, every one would be different, just like an artist paints a picture. Each one was a little different based on the craftsman that built it.”

“But here, they decided that we can follow a pattern. If you follow a pattern with one wheel and drive the cutter from that wheel, you’d be able to reproduce the part. So, the first part of this process started with pattern copying. We went from about 14 hours to handcraft a gunstock, to like 14 in an hour,” said Dalessio.

“And, where did this go? We’re talking about guns right now, but, within the nineteenth century, what else benefitted from this?” asked Perkins.

“Well, everything started to go forward from here. We knew that if we built parts precisely, they’d all become interchangeable. Today, with modern technology and computer feedback, CNC computer numerical control machines, out there, able to run into the ten-thousandth of an inch, interchangeability becomes almost the norm. There’s no variation from part to part, very small,” answered Dalessio.


“So, if people want to learn more about these early years of precision manufacturing, how can they learn more?” asked Perkins.

“You can look on our website, americanprecision.org or come to the American Precision Museum here in Windsor, Vt. and we’ll be able to explain it firsthand to everybody,” concluded Dalessio.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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