Skip to Main Content

American Firearms and Their Makers: A Research Guide

General Works

Unidentified soldier in Union uniform with three Remington revolvers, two Bowie knives, and a Springfield rifle musket. 1861. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

In 1776 General George Washington ordered the establishment of the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Initially a storage facility, the Armory had begun to manufacture muskets and eventually other guns by the 1790s. Soon the federal and some state governments began to hire small gun-making establishments to produce gun parts and guns based on those produced in the U.S. armories. Henry Deringer began producing flintlock rifles for the U.S. government in 1810 and Eliphalet Remington in 1816.

Once all parts of a gun were produced within a single establishment, the Springfield Armory and a small number of gun making outfits developed internal subdivisions and specialization in the manufacture of each part of the gun. For example, at the Armory, subdivision of labor increased rapidly; there were 36 occupational specialties in 1815, 86 by 1820, and 100 by 1825.

From 1850, metalworking industries, particularly those in the Connecticut Valley, concentrated on technical improvements in manufacturing. With some initial assistance from Eli Whitney, Samuel Colt developed molds for forging the metal pieces comprising the revolver; hence, allowing for mass production of firearms.

As the 19th century came to an end, a small number of companies that had long relied on wholesalers or manufacturers’ agents to sell their products began to build their own marketing organizations. In the late 1890s firearm manufacturers, such as Winchester, Colt, and Remington, began to set up their own regional sales offices to contact wholesalers and retailers, to improve delivery scheduling, and to advertise aggressively.

Throughout its history, the American firearms industry has proven itself capable of constant incremental improvements as well as dynamic innovation in its production, manufacturing and business processes.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to online resources are included when available.