Museum celebrates 50th birthday, new exhibit
WINDSOR — Fifty years after converting the Robbins & Lawrence Armory into a museum documenting machine tool manufacturing history in the region, the American Precision Museum is celebrating the recent completion of its latest exhibit, “Shaping America.”
The museum, located at 196 Main St., held a celebration this past Saturday, Aug. 6 in recognition of 50 years in operation, and the completion of the new exhibit, which was at least five years in the making, according to museum Executive Director Ann Lawless.
“Shaping America” explores how the machinists and tool builders of the region's "Precision Valley" influenced the course of American history, helping drive rapid industrialization, the emergence of the United States as a world power, and the development of our consumer culture.
“We’re really showcasing our own region,” she said. “This industrial development positioned the U.S. for the two world wars.”
The exhibit is split into three sections — The Tool Revolution, Arming the Union, and Consumer Culture, highlighting the stories along the way of prominent figures such as James Hartness that worked in Vermont to advance manufacturing and technical innovation.
The nonprofit American Precision Museum was founded in 1966 by Edwin A. Battison, who had recently retired from the Smithsonian when he learned that the Robbins & Lawrence Armory was in danger of demolition, and persuaded the owner at the time to sell it for use as a museum, according to the museum website. The Robbins & Lawrence Armory, constructed in 1846, built rifles with interchangeable parts for the government.
According to the museum website, the armory attracted some of the best engineers and designers in the region, and garnered “international acclaim for the quality of their guns and the efficiency of their machine tools.”
After founding the museum, Battison built up an extensive collection of machines to display. Lawless said that Battison’s exhibits were not thematic, which made it difficult for those not entrenched in engineering to absorb.
“He was working on a shoestring [budget] with a vision,” she said.
Lawless said the museum’s typical clientele have engineering backgrounds and are very knowledgeable with regard to the machines on display. With exhibits like “Shaping America,” Lawless said the museum tries to balance the interests of those with engineering backgrounds with those of the average visitor by highlighting the historical significance of the various technologies.
“Hanging our machine tools on the scaffold of American history helps [people] connect,” she said.
The museum was granted an implementation grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2011 to construct the “Shaping America” exhibit over the course of three years. However, with the economic downturn and the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Irene, the exhibit has taken longer to complete, Lawless said.
The exhibit is the museum’s 12th since 1995.
The museum has also implemented QR codes on the exhibit information panels that allow those with smartphones to view videos from the museum’s Youtube channel that correspond to the given exhibit. Users can scan the code using their smartphone and a video is quickly brought up on screen to act as a tool to tell the story of any given part of the exhibit.
“One of the things we want to continue to do is give the visitor choices,” Lawless said.
Lawless said it is “too soon to tell” what the museum’s next exhibit will be or when it will begin. Going forward, Lawless said the museum will look to add to the array of storytelling and educational techniques to further immerse museum visitors in the exhibits.
“We want to use more technology, make more connections between manufacturing past, present and future,” she said.
The museum has recently launched the Morris Group Inc. New Member Challenge in an effort to obtain more private and corporate sponsors. Corporations and private enterprises can sponsor the museum by paying the minimum membership fee of $500.
If the museum raises $25,000 in membership by April 30, 2017, Morris Group Inc., a Windsor, Connecticut-based machine tool manufacturer and sponsor of the museum, will match the $25,000 raised in a donation to the museum. Those funds will go toward future museum projects and exhibits, as well as “deepening” the current exhibit, Lawless said.
The amount raised so far is $5,500.
Corporations that were members prior to 2010 are eligible, along with any new sponsors or members, and can contact the museum at (802) 674-5781.