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Pioneers of the Machine Shop

Machine shop pioneers John Wilkinson and Thomas Blanchard.


Thomas Blanchard

Patent X3,131 1/20/1820 - Machine for turning gun stocks - Thomas Blanchard

In the early New England gunshops, the American system of interchangeable parts manufacture was born. However, its growth depended upon the machine tools, machines for making machines.

John Wilkinson - Boring Machine

English mechanic, John Wilkinson was the inventor of the boring machine. The boring machine enabled James Watt in 1776 to invent the practical steam engine. Without this machine, James Watt would have found it impossible to bore his cylinders with the necessary degree of accuracy.

Interchangeable Parts

In the machine shops of New England gunmakers, machine tools were first made of such variety and adaptability that they could be used in other types of manufacturing. A system of interchangeable parts manufacture was a distinctively American development. England's policy of keeping secret machinery inventions led to the independent development of spindles and looms in America. That policy affected the tool industry in America in the same way and bred in the new country a race of original and resourceful mechanics.

The Machines of Thomas Blanchard

Thomas Blanchard was born in 1788 on a farm in Worcester County, Massachusetts, the home of Eli Whitney and Elias Howe. Thomas Blanchard began his inventor career at the age of thirteen by inventing a device to pare apples. At the age of eighteen he went to work in his brother's machine shop, where tacks were made by hand. He invented a mechanical device for counting the tacks to go into a single packet. Thomas Blanchard's next achievement was a machine to make tacks, on which he spent six years and earned him five thousand dollars.

The tack-making machine gave Thomas Blanchard a good reputation, and he was sought out by a gun manufacturer, to see whether he could improve the lathe for turning the barrels of the guns. Thomas Blanchard could; and did. His next problem was to invent a lathe for turning the irregular wooden stocks. He produced a lathe that would copy precisely and rapidly any pattern.

Turning gunstocks was, of course, only one of the many uses of Thomas Blanchard's copying lathe. Its chief use was in the production of wooden lasts for the shoemakers of New England, but it was applied to many branches of wood manufacture, and later on the same principle was applied to the shaping of metal.

Thomas Blanchard was a man of many ideas. He built a steam vehicle and was an early advocate of railroads; he built steamboats and incidentally produced in connection with these his most profitable invention, a machine to bend ship's timbers without splintering them.

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