AMERICAN PRECISION MUSEUM FOUNDER
The American Precision Museum owes its existence to the foresight of its founder, Edwin Albert Battison. In 1966, he was nearing retirement from the Smithsonian, when he learned that the Robbins & Lawrence Armory, an outstanding example of mid-19th century factory architecture, was in danger of demolition. Aware of the significance of this building from childhood, he enlisted the help of US Senator Ralph Flanders and persuaded the owner, Central Vermont Public Service, to sell it for a future museum for the sum of one dollar! Battison became the museum's first director, a position he held until 1991.
Edwin Albert Battison was born on September 28, 1915, in Windsor, Vermont. Coming of age during the Depression, he had to forgo a college education and began working in the machine tool industry, first with the Cone Automatic Machine Tool Company (the forerunner of Cone Blanchard) and then with the Fellows Gear Shaper Company in Springfield, Vermont. Battison read widely and in his spare time collected artifacts from the American Industrial Revolution, but especially old clocks and watches. Wanting to know more about his burgeoning horological collection, he contacted the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, where it quickly became apparent that he knew more than the museum staff and was offered the Curatorship of Clocks and Watches.
Later, as Curator of Mechanical Engineering, Battison was to travel overseas for the Smithsonian and gain a global perspective on the machine tool industry. Teaching a course on technology at the University of Pennsylvania and now with access to major academic libraries, as well as the national archives, he could pursue his research interests and even challenge some of the wide-spread beliefs held in his field. One such belief was that Eli Whitney invented interchangeable parts in manufacturing muskets for the U.S. government. By personally examining the muskets in question and archives, he was to debunk this and publish the results of his findings in the Smithsonian Magazine.
At the American Precision Museum, Battison worked tirelessly to build a first-rate collection of machine tools to rival that of the Smithsonian. He acquired working models, including the famed Aschauer Collection, as well as rifles, sewing machines, and typewriters of historic significance to Windsor and the Precision Valley. Battison also created a comprehensive library and archive to support the collections; began publishing the newsletter, Tools & Technology; and with the support of the Association for Manufacturing Technology established the Machine Tool Hall of Fame. From his Washington years, he learned the importance of recognition of the site's significance as a means of ensuring its long-term preservation. The National Park Service designated the Robbins & Lawrence Armory a National Historic Landmark in 1966. In 1987, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers recognized it as the First International Mechanical Engineering Heritage Site and Collection.
In 2006, to commemorate his service, the museum honored him as its Founder, First Director, and Trustee Emeritus at the annual meeting on July 22, 2006 in Windsor, in his 90th year.
On Monday, January 12, 2009, he died at the age of 93.
Shirley J. Grainger
Board of Advisors