Arming the Union through Innovation, Genius, and Agency
Men, Machine, & the Carbine
The story of the Union Carbine's manufacturer is one of struggle and growth to accommodate the increasing demand for arms. Located in the West, the company most likely faced many challenges that other arms companies did not. There were no arms companies supplying the government during the war that were located around them. They, unlike many companies in the East, did not have the thick network of arms manufacturers in the same town or region, such as Sharps and Colt in Hartford, Connecticut. They had a further distance to travel when seeking to exchange expertise, unlike the inventors at Robbins & Lawrence and the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company. The American System of Manufacturing did reach Ohio, but not in the same magnitude for the arms industry as in the Connecticut Valley. The company faced challenges, but worked to overcome them and receive several government contracts.
Cosmopolitan Arms Co. to Gwyn & Campbell Co.
The Cosmopolitan Arms Company of Hamilton, Ohio made both the Gwyn & Campbell and the Cosmopolitan carbines. That arms manufacturing company was a partnership between Edward Gwyn, a British immigrant, and Abner Campbell, a native of Hamilton belonging to a prominent Ohio family.1 The company was established in 1859 and was first located in an old pottery factory.2
In Late 1860 or early 1861, the Cosmopolitan Arms Company moved to a bigger space, a part of an old mill powered by water.3 There, the company changed their name to the Gwyn & Campbell Company.4 Due to government contracting, the Company moved yet again to an even larger location, the former Lee & Leavitt’s Ohio Saw Factory, also powered by water. There they began production of the Gwyn & Campbell carbine.5 The switching of factories is the testament of their growth and the accommodation in order to produce carbines for the government.
The company was not a large enterprise like Colt or Sharps, but it employed what seemed to be a lot of people in the small city of Hamilton. At the height of its production, it employed around 102 to 125 men, each specialized for a specific task in manufacturing, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, gunstokers, strikers, and a polisher.6 One can assume that the production had gradually increased over time as the company’s machines and workers became familiar with the new design. Yet, production capacity would never reach the production levels of larger firms, especially at this time due to the company hand fitting the carbines instead of using mass produced interchangeable parts. Other larger firms would have had more machines, possibly of greater capacity, that would allow for a faster production process. Similarly, companies who used steam, such as Sharps and Colt, were able to power their machines regardless of bad weather, making their production rate more consistent.
The Gwyn & Campbell Company officially ended around November 16, 1868, after the death of Abner Campbell.7 After Campbell, who would have had connections due to his family’s prominence, died, the company may have lost its financial supporters. However, the company’s road to closing started after the war when they failed to gain a government contract for their carbine designs, both a single shot and a repeater, and even a contract to repair federal arms. In 1866 to 1868, the company made “patent broom heads” to maintain some profit, but ultimately it was not enough.8 The Gwyn & Campbell Company was one of many firms that did not survive long after the war, regardless of their accomplishments during it.8
PHOTO AND ARTIFACT: CINCINNATI MUSEUM CENTER
Stamped lockplate of the Gwyn & Campbell Type II Model 2
1 Thomas B. Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War: A Definitive Illustrated History of Two Rare and Unusual Civil War Cavalry Carbines and Their Use in the Field (Lincoln: Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 2000), 16 - 19.
2 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 19.
3 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 22.
4 James Timothy Brenner, “The Politics of Civil War Weapons Procurement: The Ordnance Department and Two Ohio Carbines” (MA thesis, Ohio State University, 1977), 66.
5 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 24; Brenner, “The Politics of Civil War Weapons Procurement," 66.
6 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 26-27.
7 Brenner, “The Politics of Civil War Weapons Procurement," 77.
8 Rentschler, Cosmopolitan and Gwyn & Campbell Carbines in the Civil War, 79.