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File:Christopher spencer.jpg

Christopher Spencer at about age 30

Christopher Miner Spencer (June 20, 1833 – January 14, 1922) was an American inventor, from Manchester, Connecticut, who invented the Spencer repeating rifle (one of the earliest models of lever-action rifle), a steam powered "horseless carriage", and several other inventions. He developed the first fully automatic turret lathe,[1] which in its small- to medium-sized form is also known as a screw machine.

Early years[]

Spencer worked for Samuel Colt’s factory, where he learned the arms-making trade.[2]

Civil War[]

Although the Spencer rifle had been developed as early as 1859, it was not initially used by the Union. On August 18, 1863, Christopher Spencer walked into the White House carrying one of his rifles and a supply of cartridges. He walked past the sentries, and into Abraham Lincoln's office. After some discussion, he returned the following afternoon, when Spencer and Lincoln were joined by Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War and other officials, and the group then proceeded to walk out on the Mall. Near the site of the Washington Monument, they engaged in target shooting.

Subsequent to that meeting, the U.S ordered some 13,171 rifles and carbines, along with some 58 million rounds of ammunition. This proved in part to be his undoing. The heavy expenses incurred in the manufacturing of these arms, as well as a glut of rifles on the market after the war resulted in the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company declaring bankruptcy. All the assets were acquired by Oliver Winchester.

Post-Civil War[]

Around 1882, Spencer started a new company, the Spencer Arms Company, in Windsor, Connecticut. Its most remarkable product was likely the Spencer Pump-Action Shotgun. Produced between 1882 and 1889, this was the first commercially successful slide-action (or pump-action) shotgun. Most were manufactured in 12-gauge with 10-gauge being an uncommon variant. Once again faced with financial hardships, Spencer's company and his patents were purchased circa 1890 by Francis Bannerman & Sons of New York who continued to manufacture his shotgun until around 1907.



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  • Rolt, L.T.C. (1965), A Short History of Machine Tools, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: MIT Press, LCCN 65-12439 .
  • Flayderman, Norm (1990), Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms...and their values, 5th Edition, Northbrook, Illinois, USA: DBI Books, Inc., 1990.

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