Arming the Union through Innovation, Genius, and Agency
Men, Machine, & the Carbine
The Sharps Carbine
In the beginning, similar to Christopher Spencer, Christian Sharps did not have a factory to create his carbine in. He had to rely on contracting outside manufacturers to produce his weapon. In 1850, a local gun maker Mr. Nippes from Mill Creek, Pennsylvannia, contracted with Christian Sharps and gained the rights to apply the Maynard Priming System to the Sharps Carbine.1 This arrangement lasted for at most one year.
PHOTO: NATIONAL FIREARMS MUSEUM
Maker's stamp on top of receiver of Sharps Carbine, New Model 1863
The Road to Manufacturing
1 Winston O. Smith, The Sharps Rifle: Its History, Development and Operation (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1943), 23; Norm Flayderman, Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms … and their values, 5th ed. (Northbrook: DBI Books, Inc., 1990), 166
2 Flayderman, Flayderman's Guide 5th ed., 167.
3 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 6.
4 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 24.
5 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 24, 28.
6 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 24; Arcadi Gluckman and L. D. Saterlee. American Gun Makers, 2nd ed. Revised (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The Telegraph Press, 1953), 192; Arcadi Gluckman, Identifying Old U.S. Muskets, Rifles & Carbines (New York: Bonanza Books, 1965), 231
7 Gluckman,and Satterlee, American Gunmakers, 193.
8 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 33.
9 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 28; Felicia Johnson Deyrup, Arms Makers of the Connecticut Valley: A Regional Study of the Economic Development of the Small Arms Industry, 1798-1870 (George Banta Publishing Company: Menasha, Wisconsin, 1948), 183.
10 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 29.
11 Smith, The Sharps Rifle, 25.
Christian Sharps then had a much bigger target in mind. Around 1851 he arranged for Robbins & Lawrence Company in Windsor, Vermont to manufacture his patented carbine.2 There Sharps worked with men who led the way in interchangeable parts through their work with machine tools. Those inventors at Robbins & Lawrence made improvements to the Sharps carbine.3
On October 9, 1851 the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company opened in Hartford, Connecticut, with John C. Palmer as president.4 Christian Sharps served as technical advisor, receiving a royalty of one dollar per gun.5 However, due to the increasing need for carbines, the recently started company could not manufacture enough guns to meet the demand.4
The Sharps Rifle Company then entered into a contract with Samuel E. Robbins and Richard S. Lawrence of Robbins & Lawrence Company, who organized a steam-powered factory in Hartford to manufacture all of the Sharps Rifle Company’s armaments. Robbins & Lawrence ran operations in the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company.6 However in 1852, the Robbins & Lawrence Company in Windsor closed due to financial troubles, and the Hartford factory seemed to be next. Facing the possibility of an unfilled British contract for the Sharps carbine, the Sharps Rifle Company took over operations at the Hartford factory, and Richard Lawrence was put in charge of factory operations.7 Giving a six month notice, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company bought the Harford factory, following the legal terms of the two companies’ initial contract in 1856. The delivery of Sharps to the British government was finally completed, but the company lost $25,950, $5 for each arm, in late fees.8
Four hundred fifty men worked at the Hartford armory, but nearly all of the carbine parts were made by machinery, allowing for an incredibly large amount of carbines for that time—approximately 30,000 in 1860—to be made.9 If the factory was manufacturing at full capacity, the product count would have probably doubled.10 Their production was the second largest in all of Hartford, next to the Colt factory.11