Remington Armory

A Detailed History (Part 2)

Source:  "History of Herkimer County, N.Y.," F. W. Beers & Co., New York, 1879, pages 164-168

Breech-Loading Systems - Superiority of the Remington

Though the number of designs of breech-loading systems is well nigh without limit - we believe more than one thousand patents, either for original conception or for improvements, have been issued in the United States alone - they may be pretty nearly all resolved into four classes or types.  The bolt system may be termed the first adventure in this line of invention, it being initiated in the Prussian needle-gun about 1845.  In America, though in 1828 a breech-loading carbine was made by government at Harper's Ferry, the Mont-Storm and Sharp are our first recognized systems.  Of these the former is the suggestion of a large number of subsequent inventions, in which the breech is closed by a falling block on the upper surface, hinged at the front or on one side of the housing.  The United States Springfield or Allin arm, the British Snider, the Belgian Albini-Braedlin, are different species of the tabatiere - as the French term it - genus.  The Sharp and Peabody - though it is a question if the Roberts does not antedate the latter - represent another genus in which the breech-block fills up a vertical slot in the frame, is hinged at one end, and dropped or raised by a lever.  A fourth type, essentially different from all the others, is the Remington.

The superiority claimed for the Remington system consists in the simplicity of its design - its working parts being large and few in number, its extraordinary strength, demonstrated by the severest tests before official commissions and in actual service, and its almost absolute reliability against accident or exposure.  Mere mechanical design and execution are not the only requisites to the endurance and reliability of a system.  While the mechanism must be of the very best to insure efficiency, the constructive design must be based upon correct science to make safety certain.  It is the unique claim of the patentees of this arm that no accident has ever occurred with one of their productions.  The reason of this alleged security is to be found in the perfectly scientific design of the system.  The relation of the parts to each other and to the whole organization, the relative strength of each part, the directly parallel planes of recoil and resistance axes, are the characteristic merits of this system, without which no system, however excellent its mechanical execution, can be depended upon against extraordinary incidents.

Mechanically regarded alone the Remington system deserves the highest commendation.  There are really no slight or delicate pieces in its construction, and notably no spiral spring, the presence of which in the Martini-Henry, and in bolt guns generally, has elicited so severe censure from experts.  The very least frictional or bearing surface is attained, strength, as we have suggested, being secured not by the extent, but by the relation of contiguous surfaces.  The sides of the breech and hammer blocks are not made to wear against the corresponding sides of the housing, consequently there is hardly a possibility of rust from humidity, a fact singularly demonstrated by the favorable experience of both Spanish and patriot officers in the damp atmosphere of Cuba.  So far as the escape of gas is concerned (wherein lies the generic weakness of arms of the swinging breech order, like the Martini-Henry and its American prototype the Peabody), there is no chance for it to find its way into the action, the breech-block, at the moment of discharge, not only excluding is passage into the action, but having on its lateral faces delicate grooves which conduct the fouling element into the open air.  The action is, moreover, so open and free, internally, that both clogging attrition after the severest sand trials, and the corrosion of salt water tests, have been found inefficient to stop its working.  The essential strength of the action, secured in the frame by solid steel pins nearly half an inch in diameter, is obvious enough; so securely protected, indeed, are its working parts, that not even the entire destruction of the stock will prevent the efficient use of the gun.  This feature, singular to the Remington arm, was proven before the United States naval board of 1869, and is thus recorded in its official report:

"The butt stock (wood) was then removed from the piece, and the exhibitor fired eighteen shots at a distant mark on the river, with a fair aim and with tolerable accuracy, showing the independence of the lock and barrel parts from the butt stock."

It will be observed that at the moment of discharge the breech-piece is immediately supported by the front portion of the hammer, which forms a superlatively powerful recoil tumbler.  Both of these pieces are of considerable weight and thickness, and of the choicest metal - as substantially designed and constructed, in a word, as the largest capacity of frame will permit.  The metal in these parts, and in the pins upon which they move, is so located as to equalize their power to absorb the recoil shock.  The result indeed is that the recoil shock is practically co-operative in the stability of the system, a fact due to the scientific relation of the two sectors of circles, the hammer and breech piece, between which there is a constant interlocking and bracing connection.  Thus the greater the recoil the more securely the hammer is locked, and the shoulder of the hammer becomes of necessity a fulcrum, acting upon the bearing of the breech piece in such a manner that the entire strain upon its axis is taken up by the part in the rear of the forward pin.  This theory of correlation of forces in a breech system was admirably illustrated at Washington, where, says the official report of the naval commission:

"The exhibitor fired four shots with a wooden pin (hickory) substituted for the front recoil pin; no derangement of the piece; no marks on the pin; and then fired four shots with two wooden pins in place of both steel recoil pins.  No derangement of the piece or impressions on the wood pins."

"A breech piece, filed away to nothing, in front of forward pin, was then substituted in place of the ordinary breech piece, and the gun fired seven times without jar or injury to any of the parts."

No more pertinent demonstration of the valuable relationship of science to mechanism could be furnished than the foregoing, yet as a further proof of the extraordinary strength of the system we are describing, the fact may be adduced that on several occasions it has been subjected to charges which filled the entire barrel of the piece, from breech-chamber to muzzle, without effect upon its action or efficiency, a statement which we believe can be made of no other breech-loading arm.

Ease of Manipulation and Rapidity of Discharge

Externally, the Remington gun is in all respects an admirable military weapon.  Its manner of loading is so easy and of discharge so natural, that raw recruits and untaught Africans, according to the testimony of the Spanish leaders on the side and of the patriot commander, General Thomas Jordan, on the other, need no drillmaster to instruct them in its use.  In sharp-shooting contests or in close engagements, where the arm is handled closely parallel to the ground, top of breastworks or level of rifle-pits, it can be charged and fired without exposure of the hand above the line of the barrel and without raising the gun, while it has the same facility for loading with muzzle elevated, as in the old position for priming, thus favoring its use in two-rank formation of troops.  For rapidity of fire, its simplicity of mechanism and ease of handling give it such advantages that at the prize trial in Belgium a few years since it won the first award in a general competition of the most approved systems.  The expert at the "works," with a little practice, gets from 25 to 28 shots per minute out of the arm, while the Danish soldiers, with no practice at all, were reported in 1868, as firing their new arms 17 shots per minute.  In conclusion, a better abstract of the qualities of the Remington can hardly be written than to state that it was recommended, over all competitors, for adoption by the United States commission, at St. Louis, a board of army field officers ordered to select the system which most thoroughly possessed the following requisites: "Strength, durability, and simplicity of breech mechanism; ease, certainty and rapidity of firing, and security against injury to arms or accidents from use in the hands of troops."

Extent of the Works

The establishment of E. Remington & Sons (Mr. Remington, the founder, died in 1861), exclusively devoted to the production of small arms, has, of course, very largely increased in capacity since the Danish and Swedish contracts first brought the new military arm into prominence.  The structures in which this branch of the business is pursued, though erected at intervals, present an architectural ensemble far from disagreeable to the eye - an effect by no means lessened by the pleasant village surroundings in the midst of which they stand.  They cover, including the pistol department, from three and a half to four acres of ground.  The motive force is furnished by three principal engines, aggregating 400-horse.  The number of operators averages about a thousand, though the machine plant as now perfected would probably provide work for double this number.

Working Against Time for France

The fall of 1870 doubtless witnessed in the Ilion armory a larger number of men employed, a greater daily production and a more earnest concentration of thoughts and energies upon one object, than the small arms business in this or any other country had ever known.  The contract with the French government was commenced about the middle of September.  The final installment was shipped in the first week of the succeeding  May.  During the seven months inclusive, from September 21st to the latter date, the number of service arms of its own production furnished and shipped to French ports from the Ilion armory, was about 155, 000, a total result altogether unprecedented in the history of similar transactions.  The arms composing this total were divided among the following classes:  130,000 rifles of 43 caliber; 5,000 carbines and 20,000 transformations.  The Army and Navy Journal remarks, of this great industrial achievement:  "The resources of the great armory have, of course, been taxed to the utmost.  The buildings devoted to small arms manufacture have for twenty hours of each working day been crowded with workmen from 1,300 to 1,400 employees having been all the time engaged.  The largest daily production has been 1,400 rifles [these figures are not large enough, each of the last three day's product having been 1,530 stand of rifles, with 1,300 stand on each of the fifteen working days preceding] and about 200 revolvers, and the monthly pay roll amounted to from $138,000 to $140,000."

In September, at the reception of the order from France, the capacity of the armory, working double gangs, was equal to the production of a little over 500 stand of new arms and 200 transformations.  Thenceforth the effort was general not only to sustain the original figures, but to provide machines and tools for a much larger production.  Three months saw the daily total handsomely enlarged.  By the end of five months the number of new arms turned out in each twenty hours reached 1,000.  We have already noted the culminating daily results at the close of the contract.

Labor System and Mechanical Facitilities

It need hardly be suggested that such extraordinary results as are above recorded, results absolutely unique in the history of manufacture, required not merely organization, but earnest individual co-operation on the part of all engaged, whether principals or employees.  We do not know that the organization at the Remington armory is oppressively exacting, that a guiding discipline absorbs every breath of labor - in fact, we fancy, there are many large establishments in which the workmen are much more enslaved by system and supervision.  There is, however, sometimes a something more exacting than organization, or system supervision.  In this instance indeed, it is a something infinitely more creditable to the humanity of labor than either or all of these forces.  The great armory at Ilion is, in fact, but a great family - and this, indeed, may be truly enough said of the whole busy village, every member, every citizen, of which owns an interest, at least of good wishes, in the general prosperity.  While the Remingtons are sole owners of buildings and machinery, the work is given out by contract.  Each contractor, of whom there are more than thirty in all, has his particular, job, hires his own gang of men, and executes his work, whether it be on the barrel, the stock or some other part of the system, to exact gauges, of which one set remains in the hands of the company and the other is kept carefully in his own little office, his sole care being to sustain his branch of production upon a base with the general result.  The direct issue of such a division of labor is that it equalizes or disseminates interest, and is a constant spur to endeavor in its various shapes, every little while bringing out of some clever brain a tool or a process by which operations may be reduced in number, or helping the enterprising sub to realize better results from his gang of artisans.

The system of labor as above suggested is certainly better calculated to answer such imperious exigencies as that of France in 1870, than any other could be.  It does not turn out an individual arm as speedily perhaps as a single expert gunsmith might, but it turns out a thousand in less time by far than the same number of smiths, separately employed, would dare to think of doing.  Thus, while it would be possible to take one of the molds of excellent steel, piled up in the rolling mill, and have the gun barrel completed in three hours, a careful estimate gives thirty-three days as the average time in which the mold goes through its eighty-three distinct operations and reaches the assembling room in the shape of a gleaming tube of .50 caliber ready to be issued to the National Guard.  It is, however, not the single mold but the pile of a thousand, more or less, that the barrel-making gang, in all its various branches, has to consider, and both long experience and wise economy show that this dissemination of work and multiplicity of operations effect the quickest aggregate at the smallest cost.

From 1835 to 1840, the entire machine stock of the Remington establishment comprised one turning lathe, one stocking and four milling machines, and the fixtures and tools had to be changed aobut as occasion demanded.  In those days barrels were forged and welded into shape.  Now in the rolling mill each furnace turns out from 330 to 350 barrels per day at the hands of four men.  If we follow the barrel department through, we shall find that this branch of the establishment alone, when at full head, has at work about a score of milling machines, forty-six drilling machines of various capacity and speed, thirty-one lathes and nine rifling machines, not to mention a legion of other labor devices, whose names have escaped our memoranda.  A hasty estimate gives the number of milling machines alone, used in the establishment, at over four hundred.

Shooting Qualities of the Remington Arm

The long and intelligent-experience of the Remingtons, and of their artisans, many of them a second generation of the same family in the employ of the company, has achieved large results in the mechanical features of their work, as well in the economizing of operations as in the lessening their number.  There are especial features of the Ilion work which we cannot err, however, in noting particularly.  The excellent shooting qualities of the barrels made at their establishment have been from the era of the founder a proverb in mouths of wisest censure.  This superiority has been, moreover, quite as generally observed in the barrels of the military as of the sporting rifles.  It is possible that a degree of this excellence may be due to a choiceness of material, but the extraordinary care given to the interior finish, the delicate gauging of the chambers, and the exact turning of muzzles, and, more than all, the patient and faithful straightening process, which is never neglected, are probably the general claimants in this instance.  The operation of straightening a barrel, an achievement as yet unattained by mechanical process is one of the most difficult in the manufacture of a gun, an art so rare in fact that accident has often produced a guinea Brummagem fowling piece that would outshoot a Westley Richards, or Greener, in the same field.  The Remingtons, with an honorable pride in the excellence of their productions, and correctly estimating the superlative importance of this quality in a barrel, have omitted no care, whether it concerns the experience and skill of artisans, or the severity of intermediate and final inspection, that will secure the merit of precision for their work.

Incorporation of E. Remington & Sons.

During the latter part of 1864, the enterprise of the Remingtons having attained an extent which rendered a new organization necessary, both for the purpose of perpetuating and of more easily controlling it, the private firm was made into a company under the general law of New York.  The incorporation dates from january 1st, 1865.  The first officers were Philo Remington, president; Samuel Remington, vice-president; and Eliphalet Remington, secretary and treasurer.  In 1866, in anticipation of Mr. Samuel Remington's going to Europe, he was chosen president in order to more fully represent the company in the old world.  At this time Mr. Philo Remington became vice-president.  In 1871 Colonel W. C. Squire was elected secretary of the organization.  This gentleman is son-in-law of Philo Remington, so that all the offices are retained in the family.  The nominal capital of the company was named at $1,000,000, the value of the buildings, machinery and stock in progress having been moderately estimated at $1,500,000.  The entire stock of the company at the date of incorporation was, and still is, owned by the different individuals of the Remington family, with the exception of a few hundred dollars in amount, necessary by law to qualify the three other members of the board of seven trustees, all of whom, by the way, are residents of Ilion.  The present valuation of buildings, machinery and stock ranges from $2,750,000 to $3,000,000.

Back to Remington Family and Works of Ilion: Table of Contents

Last Updated: 1/23/01

Copyright © 2001 Lisa Slaski
All Rights Reserved.