Who’d have thought a museum dedicated to antique shop equipment would be so much fun? The lack of heat in the building (it was 43° outside when we arrived and not much warmer inside) was a minor drawback, but the American Precision Museum in Windsor provided a fascinating glimpse into early American rifle-making as well as machine tool developments over time. Like most of the smaller museums we visited, the operation seems to be operated on a shoe-string budget, heavily reliant on volunteer help and in great need of more. At places like this one, we tried to pick up a locally made souvenir relevant to the specific location.
As Wikipedia reports, the museum is “in a building which was once home to the Robbins & Lawrence Armory company. The museum is home to the largest collection of historically significant machine tools in the United States. The Robbins & Lawrence building itself is an outstanding example of New England mid-19th-century mill architecture and in 1966 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also on the ASME list of historic mechanical engineering landmarks.
The museum shows old machines typical of the American civil war. Among the excellent collection of pieces found numerous guns and rifles of the time. Among other machines can find all sorts of gadgets whose purpose is to create metal parts and gear for other machines.”
The pulleys were once powered by the nearby stream
According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers:
In fulfilling a contract for 25,000 U.S. Army rifles (Model 1841) and a like quantity for the British government, Robbins and Lawrence were the first to achieve interchangeability of parts on a fully practical level, contributing greatly to all subsequent mass production of machine products. This was made possible by the systematic improvement and refinement of existing standard and special-purpose machine tools, enabling them to perform with the close-limit precision essential for “repeatability” and thus interchangeability (see the American Precision Museum). Simultaneously the firm introduced the milling machine and the turret lathe into routine commercial usage for production manufacturing. The social implications of this technological revolution have been universal.
These 1/16 scale working models of various shop machines were amazing. All of them ran, and all were built from scratch by master machinist John Aschauer. Aschauer relied on his memory, not plans, to create the models. His first working model, of a steam plant, built when we as age 14, is also here. Aschauer is said to have spent over 40,000 hours creating these miniature masterpieces.
Unfortunately, most of my pictures from here came out unfocused, so I don’t have a good shot of the first Bridgeport vertical milling machine (serial #001) produced in 1938. Today, almost any milling machine of any size or type is referred to as a “Bridgeport,” just as a copier machine is usually called a “Xerox.” For some good close-ups of various equipment on display in the museum, click on this Shop Stuff post. While looking around for better photos, I ran across this one of the giant Columbia high-wheel bike on display: