The American Precision Museum combines the atmosphere of an original 19th century factory building with a world-class collection of historic machines. The 1846 armory building, the “Shaping America” exhibition and accompanying programs explore industrial history in the context of innovation, creative problem solving, and the impact of precision manufacturing on American history and culture.
Robbins and Lawrence Armory
The American Precision Museum is located in the Robbins & Lawrence Armory, a National Historic Landmark located in Windsor, Vermont. In 1846, Samuel Robbins, Nicanor Kendall, and Richard Lawrence took the bold step of bidding on a government contract for 10,000 rifles. Having won the contract, they then constructed a four-story brick building beside Mill Brook. They brought in workers and mechanics, invented new machines, adapted old ones, and perfected techniques for producing interchangeable parts. Within a few years, they were exporting not only rifles but also their new metal cutting machines across North America, to England and around the world. The technology for making guns was quickly adapted to making consumer products as well as parts for many other machines.
The imposing, four-story structure rises from a stone foundation adjacent to a brook that provided immediate and efficient use of waterpower. Inside, power was distributed throughout each floor with line shafting; the shafts were connected to individual machines by leather belts. Abundant windows and the building’s narrow width relative to its length (40’ x 100’), brought daylight into the interior work areas. Outside, the immediate neighborhood is still home to worker housing that was built at various times in the factory’s history. The nearby Connecticut River and the active railroad attest to the importance of transportation in the development of the site.
National Historic Landmark
The armory building is significant for its architectural integrity, which reflects the size, scale, and operation of a 19th century factory. A National Historic Landmark, in 2001 it was designated a special project of Save America’s Treasures; in 2003, APM received a Save America’s Treasures award of $200,000 for installing a new slate roof to replace the deteriorated original. The museum was designated an International Heritage Site and Collection by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1987. For each of these designations, the armory was considered a site where pivotal events occurred in the history of American industry, as well as a place that lends itself to comprehensive interpretation of that history.
Early Manufacturing and the “American System”
The first phase of the Industrial Revolution was introduced in America during the late 18th century and was modeled on the English system of textile manufacturing. In 1846, when the Armory was built, the second phase of the Industrial Revolution—the “American System”—was about to be launched. In the remote village of Windsor, entrepreneurs and artisans had already constructed a series of dams that powered sawmills and a gristmill on the Mill Brook, 18 buildings and shops in total. In these small workshops, inventors developed designs for new products as well as making both new and old items more quickly. In Windsor and other towns up and down the Connecticut River Valley, new industries attracted more people and stimulated the creation of commercial downtowns. Mills, stores, and homes were clustered between the river and the steep hillsides.
American contractors and manufacturing firms such as Robbins and Lawrence and Colt exhibited at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851. (This event, officially known as the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations,” was the first World’s Fair.) A few years later, the British Parliament sent a group to study the ‘American System’ of interchangeable manufacturing and to secure the machinery necessary to introduce the system at the Enfield Armory near London.
What’s the American System of Manufacturing? It depends who you ask, and Generally speaking, these elements are included:
- Division of labor: Instead of one craftsman making each part by hand, machine tools (and jigs) were used for different operations. Semi-skilled workers could then run a machine that would make the same part in the same way.
- Interchangeable Parts: “Component parts of pistols are to correspond so exactly that any limb or part of one pistol may be fitted to any other pistol of the twenty thousand,” is what a US Government Contract (the first to specify ‘Interchangeable Parts’) said to Simeon North. In order to be sure that parts are in fact interchangeable, measurement and quality assurance is required.
- Mechanization: “Machine Tools were designed specifically for each operation. Robbins & Lawrence’s contract for the Enfield machinery included universal millers, standard millers, doublemillers, screw millers, clamp millers, four-spindle drillers and machines for tapping, edging, grooving, squaring, threading, chucking, broaching, saw-slotting, screw-pointing, screw-clipping, punching, index-milling, turning and rifling,” said Edwin A Battison in his book “From Muskets to Mass Production.”
- Machines as a Resource: In his report to Parliament in 1854, a British commissioner stated that Americans use machinery whenever possible. “Wherever it can be introduced as a substitute for manual labor, it is universally and willingly resorted to.” Additionally, “the returns on [machinery investments] are calculated not merely in the narrow sense of money but in the wider sense of adding to the firm’s general resources and improving the working conditions of the staff.” (Freight Handling, 49, 50., cited in The Social Basis of the American System of Manufacturing. )
David Hounshell states in his book “From the American System to Mass Production” that the term “American System” was more often used in retrospect, looking back at the 1800s, than it was used at the time.
The Armory: 1866–1964
The building operated as a cotton mill beginning in 1866 for nearly two decades, before returning to manufacturing machine tools in 1888. Ten years later the property was sold to the Windsor Electric Light Company, before being sold to the Central Vermont Public Service Company in 1926. In 1964, CVPS proposed razing the building, prompting Smithsonian curator and Windsor resident, Ed Battison to formulate plans for the creation of a museum. Battison had a relationship with CVPS, storing various items in the building since the 1950s.
American Precision Museum Founder, Ed Battison
Windsor native Edwin A. Battison founded the American Precision Museum in 1966 and served as its director until 1991. Battison, a curator of Mechanical Engineering at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, secured the Robbins & Lawrence Armory to house the museum and the world-class collection of historic machine tools, related books, and archival materials he had collected during his lifetime.
A New Era
In 1999, new leadership began professionalizing the operations, preserving the physical assets, and marketing to a wider audience. APM undertook a major restoration effort, installing a new slate roof, completing interior structural repairs, restoring two-thirds of the historic wood windows, re-wiring the building, updating security and fire detection systems, and launching a masonry restoration program.
Shaping America: Machines and Machinists at Work
This 4,000 square-foot exhibition focuses on the people whose work made great societal changes possible and the rise of the “American System” of manufacturing. “Shaping America” is the first comprehensive exhibition to examine Vermont’s industrial history in-depth and explores the broad themes of innovation and problem solving, craftsmanship, and the influence of precision manufacturing upon American history and culture. Precision manufacturing reinforced the growth of the American middle class and laid the foundation for the consumer culture that developed during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities helped make this exhibition possible.
Windsor, Vermont and Precision Manufacturing
Windsor, Vermont, the home of the American Precision Museum, played an important role in the development of precision manufacturing and the machine tool industry in America. The Robbins & Lawrence armory served as a breeding ground for innovation in the mid-19th century and as a center for excellence in the high tech industry of its day. Military leaders and industrialists traveled to Windsor to learn about the new “American System” of manufacturing, and workers from Windsor were aggressively recruited by other emerging industries. By continually increasing productivity, the machine tool industry spread the notion that material abundance was possible for a broad cross section of the American people. At its full maturity in the mid 20th century, the machine tool industry provided the backbone of American industrial strength and helped the United States develop into a world power.
Collection and Archives
The museum’s holdings include an unparalleled collection of industrial machinery spanning the first one hundred years of precision manufacturing, along with fine examples of early machined products including rifles, sewing machines, and typewriters. Photographs and archival records provide additional resources for interpreting this critical phase of the Industrial Revolution.
Overview & Mission
THE AMERICAN PRECISION MUSEUM
For over 170 years, the men and women of Windsor’s Robbins & Lawrence Armory shaped America’s destiny by pioneering technological innovation, improving manufacturing processes, and increasing the use of labor saving machines.
Using precision metal and wood cutting machines and high standards of accuracy, Robbins & Lawrence proved the effectiveness of developing and producing interchangeable parts that ultimately, would be known as the “American System.”
Housed in the original Robbins & Lawrence Armory since 1966 and designated a National Historic Landmark, APM holds the largest collection of historically-significant machine tools in the nation. The museum seeks to:
- Preserve the heritage of the mechanical arts
- Celebrate the ingenuity of our mechanical forebears
- Explore the effects of their work on our everyday lives
Across America, a powerful machine tool industry developed, flourishing especially in New England and the northern Midwest. Today, even in the age of plastics and microprocessors, the concept of precision manufacturing provides the foundation for modern industry around the world.
To capture the imaginations of young and old with the spirit of innovation, problem solving and design demonstrated through the dynamic story of the machines and people that form the foundation and future of the manufacturing industry in America.
- Preserve, present, and interpret our artifact collections and historic landmark property
- To inspire new generations of innovators
- Build communities that foster a strong manufacturing future
The commitment and generosity of our partners support our efforts in preserving the 1846 Robbins & Lawrence Armory, a National Historic Landmark, our extensive collection of historically-significant machine tools (largest in the nation), and our exhibits and daily programs—including the new Learning Lab and Innovation Station.
Does your support really make a difference? It does.
Memberships and Donations contribute greatly to our annual operating revenue. With your generous support APM will continue to expand our educational and career awareness programs.
We are grateful for the dedicated support of our corporate supporters and industry friends, listed below, that have been instrumental in advancing APM’s mission: telling the story of the machines and the people that formed the foundation and advance the future of American manufacturing. These companies carry on the tradition of innovation and excellence developed during the mid-19th century here at the Robbins & Lawrence Armory and by our counterparts in the “Precision Valley.”
Thank you to all of our corporate supporters (list current as of 11-30-20)
Morris Group, Inc.: One of the largest machine tool distributors in North America, Morris Group, Inc. is a third generation, family owned and operated business that serves manufacturers of precision machined parts in the United States.
Daniel Defense is a family owned and privately held firearms manufacturer located in Black Creek, Georgia. We celebrate the liberty of our country, the enthusiasm of our customers and employees, and the quality and accuracy of our products.
Gardner Business Media is the premier publisher for the heart of manufacturing in North America – providing unique, one-of-a-kind, relevant information of keen interest to the people who power plants, shops, and factories.
The Gene Haas Foundation works to support institutions that provide educational opportunities in manufacturing industries today, introducing and encouraging the next generation of manufacturers.
From Founder Gene Haas: “Not only do we believe in supporting the important beginnings of the machine tool industry in this country, but we are also committed to supporting institutions, like the American Precision Museum, that provide educational opportunities about our industries today.”
The Association for Manufacturing Technology represents and promotes U.S.-based manufacturing technology and its members – those who design, build, sell, and service the continuously evolving technology that lies at the heart of manufacturing.
From President Douglas Woods: “The museum provides a fantastic look at some of the early machine tool technology pioneers whose companies and innovations changed the products that were manufactured around the world and helped position the U.S. as the strongest manufacturing economy in the world.”
Evolution Aero is a world-class manufacturer of parts and assemblies for the aerospace, power generation and medical industries, providing customers with the finest in precision machining and design services. We are among an elite class of “one-stop shop” from concept to completion.
Established in 1969, with corporate headquarters based out of Elk Grove Village, IL, Midaco is a leading full line manufacturer of pallet changers and many other efficient products aimed at saving manufacturing time, increasing productivity and output, and making your company more profitable.
Okuma Corporation was founded in 1898 to produce and sell noodle-making machines. From there, they began manufacturing machine tools in 1904. Today, they are one of the world’s leading manufacturers of CNC machine tools.
For more than 70 years, Royal Products has been designing and building precision metalworking accessories to help manufacturers squeeze every last drop of performance out of their machine tools.
From President Allan Curran: “The American Precision Museum provides a great window into our manufacturing history, and helps us realize how far we’ve come.”
With over 100 years in the precision measurement industry, HEIDENHAIN is setting the future standards of position feedback accuracy today. Our primary industries are metalworking, machine tool, semiconductor and electronics, motor/drive, general automation, and medical, but can be of service anywhere highly dependable precision measurement and motion control is needed.
From President Rick Korte: “The many technological advances we enjoy today are due to the development of the machine tools of yesterday, and there’s no end in sight.”
Caron Engineering’s smart manufacturing products are sold worldwide and interface with nearly any CNC machine tool on the market, irrespective of builder. These products utilize high precision sensors, and high speed data processing units to make real-time automated adjustments, optimize machining, and provide valuable information about the cutting process and health of the machine. All systems have custom drivers for seamless communication with shop floor automation software.
Gosiger is a family-owned and operated machine tool distributor and manufacturing solutions provider headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. We apply the expertise of our engineers, designers, software developers, and systems integrators to develop solutions that address each unique situation. We build these solutions around the industry’s finest machine tools and accessories and provide installation, training, maintenance, replacement parts and unmatched technical support.
Founded in 1960, Hartwig, Inc., has become one of the nation’s leading machine tool distributors in the Midwest, Southwest, and Mountain regions. We specialize in turning, milling, grinding, inspection, and additive manufacturing technologies.
Established in 1919, Mazak has been contributing to the development of the machine tool industry as a leading global company. Mazak manufactures multi-tasking centers, CNC turning centers, machining centers and laser processing machines, as well as automation systems.
The Moore Tool Company has a long history of providing precision machine tools and measuring machines to the world’s most demanding customers.
From Vice President Newman Marsilius: “The American Precision Museum uniquely showcases the historic importance of U.S. machine tools and the role they have played in advancing our society.”
Since 1948, Allied Chucker and Engineering Company has provided quality machining and assembly of ferrous cast and forged components for a range of industries. Now specializing in complex driveline components, Allied Chucker has in-house design and build capability for tooling, utilizing their tool room facility and extensive CAD-CAM expertise.
C. Thorrez Industries is a family-owned and operated machined products company, producing top quality industrial parts since 1919. The company has the capacity to produce long-run, large quantity productions jobs, along with short-run and prototype work. C. Thorrez Industries are firmly committed to Quality, Delivery, and Continuous Improvement.
Founded in 1925, MacLean-Fogg offered one lock nut to North America’s railroads. Through innovative product development and selected acquisitions, the business has grown into a worldwide enterprise with facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia with sales exceeding $1 billion annually
Microbest, Inc. was founded in 1960 as a Swiss Automatic screw machine shop. Today Microbest has diversified its equipment and techniques to service clients primarily in the firearms industry, but also working in the electronics, business machines, medical and aerospace industries producing close tolerance machined components from a variety of materials.
Pilot Precision Products is the world’s largest supplier of industrial broaches and small, round cutting tools from duMONT Minute Man® Industrial Broaches and Hassay Savage broaching tools, and is the exclusive American distributor of Magafor® and GMauvaisUSATM products.
Schütte Corporation’s Michigan facility provides an extensive variety of services, including machine service, spare parts, time studies, process engineering, cam manufacturing, and tool & production demo part grinding et cetera.
For more than 40 years this family run operation has been manufacturing precision Swiss Automatic screw machine products for customers in demanding fields including computers, electronics, and recreational automotive applications.
Since its inception in 1891, Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc. has been an iconic name in the milling machines sector, serving successfully the defense and then the newborn aeronautics / aerospace industry. By 2015, the expertise, methodologies and techniques acquired in developing composite manufacturing served as an extraordinary and effective technological springboard that allowed Ingersoll to enter the additive manufacturing sector and to immediately diversify from the competition with its offer of wide-and-high additive manufacturing (WHAM) 3D printers that completes and complements its composite and subtractive products portfolio.
Lock and Lube’s mission is to end greasing frustration. Lock and Lube owns the LockNLube® trademark and sells the world’s finest equipment for machine maintenance and repair to help owners and operators keep machines running longer with less time, effort, waste, and frustration.
Major Die & Engineering Co. is a private, family owned company in business since 1956. We utilize state of the art equipment to produce precision metal stampings from copper, brass, steel, Olin 194, phos bronze, specialty gold and silver plated materials and various other metals.
30 years of convenience store design and gasoline station development experience is all yours for the asking. From what goes on the counter, the cooler, the floor, the backroom, the forecourt, to the window, you get an unbiased view.
Westminster is a leader in the production of injection molded high performance thermoplastic and metallic components for a variety of technically demanding applications.
AWT Foundation (Think MFG)
The AWT Foundation in Northeast Ohio exists to promote rewarding manufacturing careers.
Bradford Machine Company
Bradford Machine Company, located in Brattleboro, VT, in the heart of New England, is a high precision machine shop manufacturing components for the medical, optical, power generation, aerospace and other commercial industries.
Tri-Angle Metal Fab
Tri-Angle Metal Fab is engaged in the Manufacturing of Complex Fabrications and Machined Components for the Aerospace, Defense, Ordnance, Electronic and Commercial Industries. Whether it is R&D Prototypes or larger quantity production requirements, Tri-Angle Metal Fab is equipped to serve you.
Nemes Machine Co, based out of Akron, is a metal working and welding specialist that offers blacksmithing, sheet metal construction, and metal fabrication as well as other services.
The American Precision Museum has developed strong partnerships with many institutions, organizations, and businesses that support our goal to develop new programs, engage students and families, and improve access to STEM education. We collaborate with a variety of organizations to enhance learning opportunities for our visitors and our community.
Education Partners include:
- Vermont Technical College
- River Valley Technical Center
- Windsor Middle/High School
- Hartford Area Career and Technical Center
- Claremont Maker Space
- Stafford Technical Center (Rutland)
- Keene State College
- Vermont Department of Labor
- Vermont Agency of Education – Office of Career and Technical Education
Community and Memberships
The museum is a member of local, regional and national organizations, including:
- Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce
- New England Museum Association
- Vermont Historical Society
- Vermont Curators’ Group
- Vermont Attractions Association
- McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center Partner Program
- Society for Industrial Archaeology (New England Chapters)
- American Association for State & Local History
- National Association of Reciprocating Museums
- Blue Star Museums
- Distinctive Destinations of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Upper Valley Place-Based Education Collaborative
Board of Trustees
- Barbara George, Brattleboro, VT
- Christopher Gray, Springfield, VT
- Greg Jones, McLean, VA
- Richard Kline, Cincinnati, OH
- Bill Lynn, West Lebanon, NH
- Lee Morris, Windsor, CT
- Toni Neary, Cleveland, OH
- Larry Schwartz, Clear Spring, MD
- Hub Yonkers, Bedford, NH
Interested in becoming more involved? Give us a call at 802-674-5781!
Steve joined APM as the new Executive Director in September 2019. Prior to becoming the Executive Director he served as both Chair and Vice Chair of the Executive Committee. Steve has held leadership positions in medical device, aerospace, and defense manufacturing. For the past 17 years he has been General Manager and a Partner in a local precision machining company. Steve is committed to volunteerism in his local community where he serves as an elected official and on other local and regional boards. In his free time he enjoys photography, local history, and is a Maker.
Associate Executive Director
Alice traded the southern shore of Lake Erie for the Green and White Mountains! She has worked for membership organizations since 2006 and discovered her passion for STE[A]M outreach. From chambers of commerce to combat robotics programs, Alice‘s experience has taught her that collaboration builds teams greater than the sum of their parts. She can’t run a machine but loves to ask questions and share what she’s learned. She’s also a pretty good French Horn player.
Visitor Services Manager
Lisa hails from Brooklyn after a stint down South and ended up in beautiful Vermont. She has a multi-versatile background in banking, marketing, real estate and innkeeping so why not a Museum? Lisa now knows what a Bridgeport is, although the learning curve was pretty steep on that one. She feels she has found her calling as the Visitor Services Manager, doing everything to keep the visitors engaged. Lisa loves to travel, running around on her Scooter and never passes up a Newfoundland Dog that she won’t kiss!
I’ve been in the museum business for about twenty-nine years! At the Montshire Museum, it was almost exclusively in exhibits. At American Precision Museum, it’s been a great variety of responsibilities.
Among my great joys are getting a new exhibit well lit and moving the big machines around. Another wonderful thing has been relating with volunteers. I’ve worked with remarkable people. I’m currently working on recording descriptions and taking photos of all the items in our collections, and that’s exciting too.
Extracurricular activities? Well, I have children and grandchildren in the area. I go out to listen to jazz. Also dance to rock and roll and sometimes swing.
(as of October 1, 2019)