Honoré Blanc (1736–1801) was a French gunsmith and a pioneer of the use of interchangeable parts.[1][2] He was born in Avignon in 1736 and apprenticed to the gun-making trade at the age of twelve. His career spanned the decades from circa 1750 to 1801, a time period that included the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, the American Revolution (which received military aid from Louis XVI), the French Revolution, and the French First Republic.

Honoré Blanc
Born1736 (1736)
Died1801 (aged 64–65)
OccupationFirearms designer

Mass production innovation Edit

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Honoré Blanc was inspired by the work of French artillerists led by Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval, who had begun pursuing interchangeability in artillery. Their Gribeauval system involved standardization of cannons and shells. Blanc applied these concepts to muskets, and used gauges and filing jigs to bring duplicate parts to interchangeability. The uniformity of the parts was achieved via cut-and-try methods, using jigs, gauges, and master models to guide hand filing (there was no true milling at the time, although rotary filing on lathes was not unknown). As each part was filed, it was repeatedly compared against a gauge or master model (one part declared the model for all others to compare with), and the natural ability of the eyes and hands to detect small differences, such as a slight step up or down from the master to the part, ensured sufficient interchangeability.

When Blanc tried to interest fellow European craftsmen in the concept, they were unreceptive, due to a combination of skepticism as to the system viability and some amount of fear that their employment and/or status might be threatened by it if it did work. So Blanc turned to Thomas Jefferson, at that time the American Ambassador to France; Jefferson quickly realized that such a system would free America from dependence on European sources for military equipment. Jefferson tried to persuade Blanc to move to America, but was not successful, so he wrote to the American Secretary of War with the idea, and when he returned to the USA he worked to fund its development. President George Washington approved of the idea, and by 1798 a contract was issued to Eli Whitney for 12,000 muskets built under the new system.[3]

Blanc's work, and that of other French military officers led first by General Gribeauval and later by Major Louis de Tousard (who took his ideas with him into the newly established American military), formed the basis for the later development of interchangeable manufacture by the American military and its civilian contractors.[4]

Blanc, and the interchangeable musket parts experiment, is highlighted in a multi-page footnote in Mémoire sur la fabrication des armes portatives de guerre by Gaspard Hermann Cotty (1806).[5] There were "50 or 60" rifles and LeBlanc first developed the technique in 1777, demonstrating it just before the French Revolution. Roe (1916) mentions an unknown French inventor in whose work Thomas Jefferson took an interest circa 1785 and remembered years later as a "Mr Le Blanc".[6] Hounshell (1984) confirms that this inventor was Honoré Blanc.[2]

References Edit

  1. ^ Althin 1948, p. 41
  2. ^ a b Hounshell 1984, pp. 25–26, 41, 348.
  3. ^ James Burke, Connections (Little, Brown and Co.), 1978/1995 ISBN 0-316-11672-6, p. 150
  4. ^ Hounshell 1984, pp. 25–32.
  5. ^ Cotty, H. (1806). Mémoire sur la fabrication des armes portatives de guerre [Memoir on the manufacture of small arms of war] (in French). Paris, France: Magimel. p. 73, footnote. From p. 73: "Il n'est peut-être pas hors de propos de rapporter ici que je tiens de personnes dignes de foi que, quelque tems avant la révolution, le sieur Blanc, […] à qui on doit particulièrement l'avantage de l'uniformité dans les équipages de l'artillerie.)" (It is perhaps not out of place to report here that I have learned from credible persons that, some time before the [French] Revolution, Mr. Blanc, [who has been] already cited, presented to the Minister fifty or sixty [gun] locks from the stamping machines, established at great expense in Vincennes by the government of the time, which were beautiful and well formed (it is believed that nothing was spared). They, [as well as locks] from several muskets, were dismantled and the parts mixed in the presence of Mr. de Gribeauval, [who was] at that time first inspector general of the artillery, and then one took at random a certain number of pieces — [which were] combined to construct a [gun] lock — in which the defects of fit were soon recognized. (If this [method of] production seemed abandoned from its birth until 1793, would one not be permitted to believe that Mr. Gribeauval, who could not be deceived by seductive innovations, sensed the impossibility of this identity [i.e., that it was impossible for machines to produce identical parts]? He, moreover, to whom we particularly owe the advantage of uniformity in artillery.))
  6. ^ Roe 1916, pp. 129–130.

Bibliography Edit

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