Christopher Spencer was born in Connecticut in 1833. It was his grandfather, who he starting starting living with who when he was ill that encouraged his inventive mind. He was allowed to work on a lathe and modify his grandfather’s Revolutionary War musket. This experience as a pre-teen led to the deciding factor in the North beating the South in the Civil War.
He began working at a silk mill when he was 14, and three years later he began to experiment with machine design. He received his first patent at age 22 for an automatic silk winding machine. The owners of the silk mill allowed Christopher to develop a repeating rifle which could be fired multiple times before reloading. He obtained a patent for the rifle in 1860.
When Christopher tried to convince the Union Army to buy is rifle, he was turned down. He decided to see if President Lincoln would be more supportive. He walked in to the White House with his rifle to meet with the President. A little known fact about President Lincoln was his fascination with arms. The President and Christopher went out back of the White House where the President used the gun by shooting into a pile of wood.
The President was impressed and asked Christopher to return the next day. When Christopher arrived, he was met by the President and the Secretary of War. They moved to the Mall near the site of the Washington Monument. The President engaged in target practice, shooting a bullseye.
Christopher got his order for rifles and eventually sold over 100,000 to the Union. The repeating rifle gave the North an incredible advantage over the South whose rifles remained relatively unchanged since the Revolutionary War.
Unfortunately for Christopher, the end of the Civil War led to the bankruptcy of his company. His assets were purchased by Oliver Winchester whose name is better known in rifles.
Christopher had a legacy of important inventions. It was his invention of an automatic screw machine that is given credit for the manufacturing innovation that made the Industrial Revolution Era a possibility. He passed away at the age of 88.
Of all of the inventors that changed America, Christopher Spencer is one of the most consequential but also one of the least known.
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“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” – Thomas Edison