Monday, July 15, 2013

On the Springfield Armory

On the Springfield Armory: From 1777 to 1968, the Springfield Armory stored ammunition (gunpowder) and produced weapons (guns and bayonets) for the U.S. Army. Founded at the request of General George Washington, the first weapon designed and manufactured at the Armory was a flintlock musket in the 1790s. But why Springfield, Massachusetts? The town was far enough inland (along the Connecticut River) to avoid a coastal attack and it had easy access to commodities such as water and timber. Its location permitted military officers and skilled craftsman to work in a secure and semi-isolated environment. Yet as the demand for weapons grew, Armory operators quickly realized that they could not rely on the hands of gunsmiths alone. In the 1820s, the Armory adopted the newly invented Blanchard lathe, which was a machine developed for cutting irregular shapes (mostly from wood). And by the Civil War, the Armory was producing around 1,000 guns per day. Other technological improvements to gun design that occurred at the Armory during the 19th century included percussion locks (1840s), breech loading (1860s), and bolt-action magazines (1890s). The main advantage behind these improvements resided in the ability to fire more rounds per minute. Also, guns from the Armory were present in World War I and II, as the M1903 Springfield rifle and John Garand's M1 semi-automatic rifle were standard issue for American soldiers.

Monday, July 1, 2013

On the Boston Manufacturing Company

On the Boston Manufacturing Company: When Francis Cabot Lowell returned from England in 1812, he set out to establish the first integrated textile mill in the United States. An integrated mill meant one which contained power looms alongside power carding and spinning machines (Samuel Slater's Pawtucket mill only had power spinning capabilities). The power, of course, came from a waterfall's gravitational force, such as the Moody Street Dam on the Charles River in Waltham, Massachusetts (pictured above). For Lowell, the Boston Manufacturing Company's primary goal was to produce a low-cost, coarse-fiber cotton fabric. The ideal market for this cotton fabric included farmers, factory workers, and slaves. But the real genius of Lowell's business model centered on its vertical integration of the textile industry. To integrate vertically, Lowell saw the need to convert raw cotton directly into a usable fiber. The only "X" factors in the integration process resided in the production of raw cotton (Southern slaves) and the demand for textiles (advertising). By 1815, Nathan Appleton and others had convinced Lowell of the need to create demand through marketing. They also believed the entire company hinged on the effectiveness of its power looms, because that was where the highest fixed costs existed. Workers could be hired and fired, but debt repayments for the power looms had to be consistent.