Simeon North

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Simeon North (1765 - 1852) was a Middletown, Connecticut gun manufacturer, who developed America's first milling machine in 1818 and played an important role in the development of interchangeable parts manufacturing.

North was born in Berlin, connecticut to a prosperous family, able to provide all six sons with farms of their own. North was given a farm in Berlin, a givt that enabled him to marry Lucy Sabage when he was only twenty-one. The couple would have five sons and three daughters. In 1795 the Norths purchased a sawmill located on the brook that ran beside their land. He hired a man to help run it, enlarged the building to house a forge and trip-hammer, and began manufacturing scythes from imported steel. Four years later, he obtained a contract to make pistols and began to add a factory to the mill building.

North's brother-in-law, Elisha Cheney was skilled clockmaker, a trade he had learned from his father Benjamin Cheney and uncle Timothy Cheney, two of the finest clockmakers in Connecticut. In 1810 Elisha Cheney moved his clock-making shop to the next waterpower site upstream from North. Although Cheney was trained as a maker of fine clocks in brass and other methods, Eli Terry, a clockmaker who had trained as a clockmaker with either Timothy or Benjamin Cheney, had just invented a method of mass-producing the parts for wooden shelf, or pillar-and-scroll clocks that enabled them to be mass-produced using interchangeable parts. Cheney used his new plant to mass-produce parts that manufacturers were turning out in emulation of Eli Terry's innovation. Cheney is known to have also produced screws and small metal parts in his mill for the pistols his Simeon North was manufacturing just downstream.

North is now generaIly credited with the invention of the milling machine-the first entirely new type of machine invented in America and the machine that, by replacing filing, made interchangeable parts practical.

By 1813, North had signed a government contract to produce 20,000 pistols that specified that parts of the lock had to be completely interchangeable between any of the 20,000 locks---the first such contract of which any such evidence exists. It is during this period that North is believed to have invented a milling machine-the first entirely new type of machine invented in America and the machine that was able to shape metal mechanically and that, by replacing filing, made interchangeable parts practical. Historian Diana Muir believes that he accomplished this around 1816. According to Muir's book Reflections in Bullough's Pond, North "was the first arms maker to implement a number of machine production techniques, yet he cautiously hslted his pursuit of mass-produced, interchangeable parts" whenever it became apparent that it was uneconomic. For some time, interchangeable parts manufacturing in metal would continue to be a combination of machine-made parts and human skill in filling machine-parts parts to precise size for such high-end uses as military weapons where interchangeable parts were worth paying for at high prices. (They were worth it because an army on campaign could cannabalize damaged weapons for parts.)

As North's business grew, he moved it from Berlin to nearby Middletown.

At about that time, North was sent to John H. Hall, superintendent at Harpers Ferry (Va.) Armory, to introduce his methods of achieving interchangeability. In 1828, North received a contract to produce 5,000 Hall rifles with parts interchangeable with those produced at Harpers Ferry. North had a 53-year contractual relationship with the War Dept. The report of Charles H. Fitch prepared for the 1880 Census credits North with a key role in developing manufacture with interchangeable parts. American Precision.Com.


* S.N.D. North and Ralph H. North, Simeon North; First Official Pistol Maker of the United Sates; A Memoir, Rumford Press, Concord N.H., 1913

* Diana Muir, Reflections in Bullough's Pond; Economy and Ecosystem in New England, Universitry Press of New England, 2000

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