Today in History – September 6, 1819 – Blanchard lathe is patented by Thomas Blanchard of Middlebury, Connecticut. The advantage of this lathe was that it was capable of manufacturing irregular forms, such as gun stocks.
Actually, the lathe is more of a shaper since the cutter was a rotating wheel tool and the action of the lathe is similar to a key cutting machine in use today. In place of the key blank, a stock blank (for example a rough stock of a gun) would be held in the machine. A friction-wheel following the surface of a sample pattern was used to move a cutting wheel on the same shaft that carved the workpiece to the same contour. The musket stock slowly rotated during machining. The machine was also utilized in commercial production in industry as well to machine a variety of workpieces with these “variable geometries” along their lengths. Examples include axe handles, wagon wheel spokes and similar parts. This invention greatly reduced the cost of manufacturing.
Thomas Blanchard was an inventor of other automated machinery as well, starting with an automated tack making machine which he developed around 1806. Ultimately he and his brother perfected a machine that could produce 500 tacks per minute. He is credited with building the first American automobile, a one ton steam powered machine that he piloted around Springfield.
The Blanchard lathe is considered to be one of the great inventions helping to drive American industrialization. The only surviving Blanchard stock making replicating lathe is on display in the Museum at Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield MA (www.nps.gov/spar).
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on machine tools, manufacturing processes and green manufacturing. Additional curricular materials on modern manufacturing practices can be found on the Manufacturing Engineering Education or the Industrial Engineering Education community sites.