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Kashmeri: Interchangeable Parts

10/15/12 5:55PM By Sarwar Kashmeri
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(Host) As an international business specialist, commentator Sarwar Kashmeri travels a great deal, and he says he is often asked two questions about his home state - and his answers may surprise you.

(Kashmeri) Vermonters who travel get used to being asked "So where is Vermont?" That's an easy question to answer compared to the follow up, "So what is Vermont famous for?"

How do you answer that one?

My standard answer is to aim high and say that Vermont is the reason America is what it is today.

That really gets their attention.

"Really, how?" I'm asked next. But I'm ready for that one.

"Well," I say, "Vermont literally armed the Union troops who won the Civil War and preserved the Union. How's that for starters?"

Is my answer an exaggeration? I'll let you decide.

My train of thought originates at The American Precision Museum, in Windsor - and its current exhibition "Arming the Union" along with its permanent collection of six generations of machine tools.

The Museum was created to preserve one of the 19th century's most famous rifle makers: the Robbins and Lawrence armory. Like other armories around the world Robbins and Lawrence manufactured weapons one at a time with parts individually made and shaped for each weapon. So, parts made for one rifle didn't fit another. It took a skilled craftsman two days to make one weapon.

Rising demand from the Civil War forced the armory to perfect the technology for making rifles with interchangeable parts. This was the high-tech invention of its day. It required the manufacture of precision tools and innovation in measurement techniques.

Robbins and Lawrence became the model for a new system of manufacturing that allowed parts to be made by the thousands and then assembled into finished weapons.

Factories from all over America and as far away as England ordered these revolutionary machines from Vermont and often came here to study what came to be known as the American system of manufacturing.

The armory in Windsor, together with dozens of armories in the North that bought Robbins and Lawrence's precision machines, supplied more than half the rifles for the 2 million soldiers drafted into the Union army. That's more than a million rifles - a signal contribution to the Union's victory in the Civil War.

But that's not all.

After the war the technology used to mass produce weapons was deployed to satisfy America's growing middle class by mass producing consumer goods at a price they could afford. Bicycles, sewing machines, watches, clocks, cars, appliances poured out of factories that drew upon the inventions of the armory in Windsor.

Mass production of consumer goods transformed the United States into the world's greatest economic power.

Now I think that's a pretty good answer to have in your pocket as you travel, don't you?

It really does raise the bar for your follow up question. "Now tell me about your State!"
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