While the name "Sharps" usually conjures up images of big-bore "Buffalo" rifles and thumb-size cartridges, the number of cartridge chambered Sharps ever produced pales in comparison to the mass production of the Civil War-era Sharps breechloading percussion carbines and rifles. Those percussion Sharps and, to a degree, their later conversion to .50-70 cartridge models were the basis of the company's financial success and the secret of its survival following the war.
Similarly, the inventor of the successful and durable falling block action, Christian Sharps, is commonly associated with the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company and the later Sharps Rifle Company throughout their 31-year history. The irony is Christian Sharps was never the principle owner of either company and severed his relationship with the Sharps management within two years after the initial company was formed in 1851. Richard Lawrence of the firm Robbins & Lawrence then became the chief engineer of the Sharps action, refining it for mass production and making many mechanical improvements in the ensuing years. If you enjoy history, the Sharps story is a fascinating read.
Christian Sharps first appears as an apprentice at the Federal Arsenal at Harper's Ferry in the 1830s, working under Capt. John Hall, inventor of the Hall rifle, the first percussion, breech-loading, military firearm ever issued in significant quantity.
Sharps' experience at Harper's Ferry was fortuitous training for what was to come. It certainly exposed him to the essentials of mass production, machine tool design and the quality control and gauging required for the manufacture of interchangeable parts. It also familiarized him with the Hall action as well as other experimental breechloading models the Ordnance Department was constantly examining and testing.
Sharps received the basic patent for his falling block and toggle-lever percussion action in September 1849. The first commercial production of a Sharps .44 caliber sporting rifle was undertaken the same year on a contract basis with Albert Nippes of Mill Creek, Pennsylvania. From 1849 to 1859, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing turned out a variety of sporting and military rifles and carbines, but it took the outbreak of the Civil War and the Ordnance Department's emergency requirement for firearms to put the company on a firm financial footing.
By 1860, the company plant in Hartford...