ASME-Landmark:Robbins & Lawrence Machine Shop


The 1846 Robbins & Lawrence Machine Shop, which now houses the American Precision Museum (National Engineering Landmark #119), was founded by gun-making mechanic Richard S. Lawrence and businessman Samuel E. Robbins. The building is a classic example of mid-19th century factory architecture, constructed of handmade brick with interior timber framing. The adjacent Mill Brook provided the water power to run the machinery, diverted to a mill race and water wheel in the basement.

Their firm, Robbins and Lawrence, made history by fulfilling a contract for 25,000 U.S. Army rifles and a like quantity for the British government—the first firm to achieve interchangeability of parts on a fully practical level. This was made possible by the systematic improvement and refinement of existing standard and special-purpose machine tools, enabling them to perform with the close-limit precision essential for repeatability and then interchangeability. The firm simultaneously introduced the milling machine and the turret lathe into routine commercial usage for production manufacturing.

This new type of manufacturing was soon be known as the American System. Not only was Robbins and Lawrence the first large-scale exporter of machine tools, but it also employed a number of people who went on to work at, or found, other companies that employed interchangeable parts. Across America, a powerful machine tool industry grew up, flourishing especially in New England and the northern Midwest, leading to the manufacture of sewing machines, typewriters, bicycles, engines, cars, and more. Today, even in the age of plastics and microprocessors, the concept of precision manufacturing provides the foundation for modern industry around the world. See ASME website for more information