Yankee Gunmaker in Bronze: Ames Manufacturing

In numerous posts I’ve mentioned Ames Manufacturing Company as a source of bronze cannons.  So it’s time for a look at the company’s history.  In addition to cannons, the Ames name is closely associated with swords – and indeed a rather famous line of those edged weapons.  But beyond weapons, in the 19th century Ames was a well known source of tools and manufacturing equipment.

According to some sources the company started with blacksmith John Ames during the Revolutionary War period.  In 1791 he established a factory Chelmsford, Massachusetts, focused mostly on tools.  John’s son, Nathan Peabody Ames, continued with the family business but relocated west to Chicopee Falls along the Connecticut River (sometimes cited as Cabotville) to establish the Chicopee Manufacturing Company in 1829.  Two years later the company landed contracts to produce artillery swords for the Army.  This success lead to the incorporation of the Ames Manufacturing Company in 1834, with Nathan and brother James Tyler Ames listed among the owners.

Ames Model 1832 Foot Artillery Sword

Ames also benefited from the close proximity to the federal armory at nearby Springfield, Massachusetts.  The association began as Ames provided tools to the armory.  Later Ames hired Jacob MacFarland from the armory, and expanded the product line to include milling machines.  These machines went to American facilities such as Harpers Ferry, and also overseas customers such as the Woolwich Amory in England.  Ames was well on the way to becoming part of an antebellum “military-industrial complex.”

Springfield Armory

At about the same time, in 1835-6 Ames opened a bronze foundry.  Although able to produce bells for civilian markets, the foundry opened production with the 6-pdrs field guns, 12-pdr field howitzers, 12-pdr field guns, and 24-pdr field howitzers of Model 1835.  Successful completion of these contracts placed Ames (along with their other Massachusetts competitor Cyrus Alger of Boston) among the major weapons suppliers to the Army.

In 1840, Nathan Ames accompanied a military commission which toured Europe to examine cannon manufacturing techniques.  No doubt Ames brought home a wealth of information applied to improving the product line.  And apparently a the Army felt very comfortable with Ames, given the company a majority in bronze field piece contracts through the 1840s and 1850s.  By 1845, Ames Manufacturing expanded the product line, adding an iron foundry.  But Ames never seriously competed with contemporary iron gun foundries such as Alger, West Point, and Tredegar.

Manassas 19 July 050
Trunnion Stamp on 6-pdr Converted to James Rifle

After the death of Nathan in 1847, James continued to manage the company.  Most cannons cast before 1847 bear the marks “N.P. Ames // Founder // Springfield // Mass.”  conforming with the practice at the time of identifying the foundry owner.  Later cannon are marked “Ames Co. // Founders // Chicopee // Mass.”  or “Ames Manufacturing Co.” or abbreviated “A.M.Co.”   Since Chicopee and Springfield were closely associated within an industrial complex, the difference in place names was merely an administrative change (perhaps for marketing?).

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Trunnion Stamp on James Rifle

In December 1856 Ames received an order for a “new pattern” 12-pdr field gun.  Observations by ordnance officers touring France influenced the design, leading to the attribution to Emperor Napoleon III.  Some time back I provided an overview of the early Napoleon gun development.  And here’s the first of that long line of field guns, now on display at Petersburg.

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Ames Napoleon Number 1

In September 1857 the company delivered four “new pattern, modified” 12-pdr light field guns.  Those guns retained dolphins or handles between the trunnions.

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Ames Napoleon Number 12

As wartime production ramped up, the Army dispensed with the handles leaving the very familiar clean “Napoleon” form.  However, Ames only produced 97 of the type for Federal orders.  The Army credited Ames’ last six Napoleons in February 1863 – experimental rifled guns at that.  But Ames did answer state orders for the type later in the war, indicating the retention of production facilities.

Ames also became the leading manufacturer for bronze James rifles.  Ames was the exclusive source for the “Type 2” James, using the 6-pdr Model 1861 form.

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James Type 2 Rifle at Manassas

Certainly the rhyme of “James” and “Ames” caused some issues during the war (as it does today), particularly with James T. Ames still at the helm of the company.

Production of the James for Federal contracts ceased in 1862.  As with the Napoleon, Ames delivered both James rifles and 6-pdr Model 1861 for state orders through 1864.  Aside from those state orders, Ames delivered some 200 bronze 24-pdr Coehorn Mortars Model 1838 from 1862-65.  Somewhat diminished output from what had been the nation’s premier bronze gun-maker in the 1840s and 1850s.

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