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The Harpers Ferry Breechloader

The Harpers Ferry Breechloader

This noted gunsmith was born in Portland, Maine, in 1781. He worked in his father’s tannery from a young age and, as an adult, moved into woodworking. He also began tinkering with firearms, and by 1811, he had designed a new firearm and received a patent. 

In 1819, he signed a contract with the War Department to mass-produce 1,000 of his patented rifles, and he worked out of an old armory sawmill along the Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry, W.V., to complete the contract. Commissioners from the Ordnance Department visited in 1826 to examine his machinery, and they were amazed at his mass-production innovations. 

An Army Ordnance writing states that he “had formed and adopted a system in the manufacture of small arms, entirely novel, and which, no doubt, may be attended with the most beneficial results in the country, especially if carried into effect on a large scale.” 

He continued working at Harpers Ferry until 1840, and passed away the following year, at the age of 60. 

Click here to learn more about this this inventor who created the first American firearm made with totally interchangeable parts. It’s just one of the many fascinating treasures on display at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va.