Lawrence, Richard Smith

SUBJECT AREA: Weapons and armour
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b. 22 November 1817 Chester, Vermont, USA
d. 10 March 1892 Hartford, Connecticut, USA
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American gunsmith and inventor.
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Richard S.Lawrence received only an elementary education and as a young man worked on local farms and later in a woodworking shop. His work there included making carpenters' and joiners' tools and he spent some of his spare time in a local gunsmith's shop. After a brief period of service in the Army, he obtained employment in 1838 with N.Kendall \& Co. of Windsor, Vermont, making guns at the Windsor prison. Within six months he was put in charge of the work, continuing in this position until 1842 when the gun-making ceased; he remained at the prison for a time in charge of the carriage shop. In 1843 he opened a gun shop in Windsor in partnership with Kendall, and the next year S.E. Robbins, a businessman, helped them obtain a contract from the Federal Government for 10,000 rifles. A new company, Robbins, Kendall \& Lawrence, was formed and a factory was built at Windsor. Three years later Kendall's share of the business was purchased by his partners and the firm became Robbins \& Lawrence. Lawrence supervised the design and production and, to improve methods of manufacture, developed new machine tools with the aid of F.W. Howe. In 1850 Lawrence introduced the lubrication of bullets, which practice ensured the success of the breech-loading rifle. Also in 1850, the company undertook to manufacture railway cars, but this involved them in a considerable financial loss. The company took to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, England, a set of rifles built on the interchangeable system. The interest this created resulted in a visit of some members of the British Royal Small Arms Commission to America and subsequently an order for 150 machine tools, jigs and fixtures from Robbins \& Lawrence, to be installed at the small-arms factory at Enfield. In 1852 the company contracted to manufacture Sharps rifles and carbines at a new factory to be built at Hartford, Connecticut. Lawrence moved to Hartford in 1853 to superintend the building and equipment of the plant. Shortly afterwards, however, a promised order for a large number of rifles failed to materialize and, following its earlier financial difficulties, Robbins \& Lawrence was forced into bankruptcy. The Hartford plant was acquired by the Sharps Rifle Company in 1856 and Lawrence remained there as Superintendent until 1872. From then he was for many years Superintendent of Streets in the city of Hartford and he also served on the Water Board, the Board of Aldermen and as Chairman of the Fire Board.
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Further Reading
J.W.Roe, 1916, English and American Tool Builders, New Haven; repub. 1926, New York; and 1987, Bradley, Ill. (provides biographical information and includes in an Appendix (pp. 281–94) autobiographical notes written by Richard S.Lawrence in 1890).
Merritt Roe Smith, 1974, "The American Precision Museum", Technology and Culture 15 (3): 413–37 (for information on Robbins \& Lawrence and products).
RTS

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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