Time to celebrate Maine’s gun-making heritage

If you haven’t seen this yet, the good news is that you have until March of 2017. The Maine State Museum in Augusta is featuring an awesome exhibit titled: “Inventors and Sportsmen: Maine Gunsmiths in the 1800s” celebrating generations of Maine gunsmiths and illustrating the inventiveness, artistry, and craftsmanship that they brought to the early gun-making industry, as well as to the sports of hunting and fishing.

Here’s the museum’s news release, which includes the days and times the museum is open.

Inventors and Sportsmen: Maine Gunsmiths in the 1800s” features over 75 artifacts, including guns made by 22 Maine makers.

“In Maine, people are comfortable with guns, but many perhaps don’t realize that for centuries, firearms have not just been tools for recreation, provisioning and safety, but also sources of complex craftsmanship, beauty, and ingenuity,” comments Maine State Museum Director Bernard Fishman. “At the museum’s new exhibit, visitors will see an aspect of Maine’s culture that they may not have considered before, but which is sure to excite pride and inspiration.”

Maine gunsmiths - museum photoThe 1800s represent a time of transition and innovation in the craft of gunsmithing, as it evolved from craft toward industry, and from handwork to mechanization and mass-production. Maine was at the forefront of this dramatic change through the work of John Hall, a Portland cooper turned gunsmith, whose work is featured prominently in the museum’s exhibition. In 1811, Hall set off a revolution with his invention of a breech-loading mechanism and system of mass-production. By the 1870s, men like the Evans brothers, whose firearms are also shown in the exhibit, had adopted Hall’s mass-production system and were making over 50 large-capacity rifles every day in their Mechanic Falls plant.

With their improvements in the efficiency of manufacture, Maine’s gunsmiths changed the way America worked. Employing a remarkable number of skills and innovations, Maine’s numerous gunsmiths also helped create and sustain a culture of hunting and outdoor sports in Maine that continues to shape the state today.

Inventors and Sportsmen: Maine Gunsmiths in the 1800s” will be on view through March 2017. While visiting the museum, don’t forget to check the museum store to purchase Dwight B. Demeritt Jr.’s book, Maine Made Guns and their Makers, the groundbreaking work on the subject.

Listen to a recent interview by Nora Flaherty with exhibition curator Laurie LaBar on MPBN’s Maine Things Considered – which you can access here.

Museum Hours: Tuesday–Friday 9am to 5pm | Saturday 10am to 4pm
Closed Sunday and Monday | Closed all State Holidays

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.