This Place in History: Robbins and Lawrence Armory

Vermont Historical Society

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 today about how the development of firearms manufacturers led to all sorts of industrial innovations right here in Windsor. Behind us is the Robbins and Lawrence Armory, which is now the American Precision Museum. Its Director of Education Scott Davison is going to introduce us to this subject,” explained Perkins.

“In 1843, Robbins and Lawrence received a contract to make 15,000 rifles from President Polk for the Mexican-American War. They got the bid because they were ten cents per gun lower. They convinced the government that they could do interchangeability in the parts of those rifles,” said Davison.

“The display here is fascinating for those who are gun aficionados. But, the more important story is that these represent a period of four years during the Civil War. When we started out in 1861 with a musket loading rifle. It was a single shot. If you were really good you could get three or four shots off in a minute.”

“All the way down, four years later, they had a rifle called a ball carbine which would take eight bullets. It was a repeating rifle and the technology was that much more advanced in that short period of time. So, the impetus of the war really pushed the technology development,” explained Davison.

“And a lot of that technology development really took place right here,” said Perkins.

“It did. Correct. The development of the machine tools that made the machines,” answered Davison.

“Now, after the war, you had all the machine tools but not the need for all these guns anymore. What happened?” asked Perkins.

“They simply retooled, if you will, to use a modern phrase. People wanted other objects to be made with precision manufacturing. So, bicycles, sewing machines, typewriters, all the consumer goods that we think of as common today were then just beginning to be built with the machine tools for precision in the 1860s and 1870s,” replied Davison.

“You were saying that some of the people who helped develop these iconic brands received their apprenticeships right here in Windsor,” said Perkins.

“There’s a fascinating genealogy of people who started here as apprentices or foreman and moved to different companies. Some of the other armories were the recipients of people who worked here. I’m told Mr. White, who created the White Sewing Machine, actually started his career here in Windsor,” answered Davison.

“And, I remember Mr. Henry, who created the repeating rifle, which then became the Remington rifle, the gun that won the west, also worked here in this armory,” said Perkins.

“That’s right. It’s fascinating. The development of the machine, the tools and people and their skills in places like this all up and down Precision Valley and the Connecticut River,” concluded Davison.

At ‘This Place in History’!

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