Richard Smith Lawrence needs no introduction to firearms buffs, who know him as a pioneering gun inventor and innovator. However, his significance goes far beyond gunsmithing, because his Robbins and Lawrence Model 1841 U.S. Army rifle was in fact the first practical achievement of interchangeability of parts in any commercial product. Interchangeability was the bedrock innovation that enabled modern manufacturing as we know it today.
Simultaneously, the firm (also was known as Robbins, Kendall & Lawrence at one time) introduced the milling machine and the turret lathe into routine commercial use for production manufacturing. The implications of this technological advance were revolutionary.
His innovation of close-limit precision manufacturing was not merely an American first, it was a world first and British manufacturers and engineers were first familiarized with it at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London. It was a "shot heard round the world," so to speak.
Lawrence's important achievements at the Robbins & Lawrence Machine Shop in Windsor, Vermont, have been acknowledged with the establishment of the American Precision Museum within the original machine shop building, which is now a national landmark structure.
Lawrence is also associated with the legendary Sharps rifles and carbines, perhaps the most celebrated of all Civil War firearms, and with innovative gun patents related to automatic pellet priming mechanisms and improved gun-sights. He used to get "love letters" from soldiers in the field, telling him how much they appreciated the weapons he built for the Union army.
This newly-discovered autographed carte de visite photograph of Lawrence dates from the Civil War era. It is possible that this image of him is previously unknown.
The U.S. Internal Revenue tax stamp dates it between August 1864 and August 1866, and is initialed by the photographer, R.S. DeLamater of Hartford, Connecticut. Hartford was Lawrence's home and the home of the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company at the time.
The scan above includes a comparison photo of Lawrence taken when he was older (from Frank Seller's book, Sharps Firearms) and an image of his signature taken from one of his patent papers.