Born on a farm in central Massachusetts, Thomas Blanchard started inventing machinery at age 13 with an apple-paring mechanism. The later invention of a tack-making machine gave Thomas Blanchard a reputation, and he was sought out by gun manufacturer Asa Waters, a supplier to the United States Armory in Springfield, to see whether he could improve the lathe for turning the oval base of gun barrels. Blanchard did, with a machine that used a cam motion.
In 1818, Blanchard went on to invent an efficient machine for turning irregular wood rifle stocks, automating what had been a job of hand-carving and furthering the 'American System' of interchangeable parts. Blanchard's famed copy lathe not only turned gun stocks; its chief utility turned out to be producing wooden lasts for shoemakers. Later on, the same principle was applied to the shaping of metal.
In 1849, Thomas Blanchard invented a machine for bending wood that was used to make plow handles and larger shapes for ships. In his later years the inventor built steamboats and then moved to Boston, where he served as an expert on patents.