GUN BARONS: The weapons that transformed America and the Men who Invented them | John Bainbridge, Jr., St. Martn’s Press (2022) 352p.
It is one book, yet five biographies. Bainbridge tells the stories of Colt, Remington, Winchester, Smith, and Wesson. To understand their inventions and the process, Bainbridge takes the reader back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in New England, where most of them launched, sprouting from the Connecticut River basin, which formed, at the time, America’s fertile production crescent.
While their product lines differed, they pursued the same quest: a repeating firearm with a waterproof bullet (cartridge). Before these remarkable advances, firearms were stuck in laborious flintlock platforms. The breakthrough came with the man who invented the household safety pin (Walter Hunt), whose imperfect gun design nevertheless provided an innovative design. Nevertheless, Hunt could not commercialize his product the way the subject of this tome did.
Much like the patent fights over a combustible engine, massive legal fights broke out over gun patents fueled by vibrant labor swapping enabled by their proximity. Safe to say, they did not have non-compete agreements in the 1850s.
Barrons is less about the guns and more about the lives of those who brought them to scale. Remington, for example, is a youthful poet and pacifist, hardly the profile one expects. Winchester, a carpenter, ran a haberdashery before turning to a firearm manufacturer.
What is also clear and missing from any modern narrative is the overwhelming historical evidence that guns have been, more than not, instruments of progress and protective of freedoms than not. Gun Barrons is a fascinating look into the lives behind those who made firearms more of a mainstream part of our American story, built upon our common birthright in the Bill of Rights catapulted into the next century by Yankee ingenuity.