We take for granted today the staggering precision of modern technology. Cars, electronics, robots and medical equipment, all come off the factory floor composed of effortlessly interchangeable parts; but this was not always the case. In the late 18th century most things that required any kind of precision were made by hand. One notable example being the flintlock musket. You see back then if you wanted a rifle you ordered one from a gunsmith, and he built for you, by hand, an essentially custom (bespoke) product. If something broke you took it back to a gunsmith who would craft a repair for that particular rifle – you couldn’t swap out a part with a replacement because at that time parts weren’t interchangeable. At least not until Honoré Blanc showed us all it could be done. So while my last blog was focused on the verification challenges of the Pilgrims, this blog returns to the sea to show how the unrelenting determination of one self-taught genius saved untold lives. Today we focus on one lone gunsmith… in a dungeon.
He made guns, in prison?!?
Blanc wasn’t the first to think of, or even implement interchangeable parts, but he was the first to do it for something as complicated as a flintlock musket. He did it to drive efficiency, enable in-field repairs, and…well, actually, no. At the time the cost and reliability issues were causing friction between the French Army and the gunsmiths, who were choosing to sell their guns to the Americans and thus causing gun shortages in France. A solution was needed to allow for less-skilled craftsmen to assemble their guns, and that was the nexus of the interchangeable flintlock musket! And that was also the reason that Honoré Blanc had to carry out his work in the dungeons of a castle, as a means of protection from his fellow gunsmiths (and I’m guessing if there was a profession you did not want to aggravate, it would be gunsmiths!).
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