1792 contract rifle

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1792 contract rifle
Gun displays - Huntington Museum of Art - DSC05478.JPG
Several contract rifles at the Huntington Museum of Art
Type Flintlock rifle, Kentucky rifle
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service 1792–?
Wars War of 1812,
Mexican–American War,
American Civil War
Production history
Manufacturer Whomever picked up the contract to build them for the government. Primarily Pennsylvania gunsmiths.
Unit cost $12 [1]
Produced 1792–1794
No. built approximately 3500
Length 42 inches

Caliber .49
Action Flintlock
Feed system Muzzle loaded

The 1792 contract rifle is not a specific model of gun, rather it is a modern way to categorize a collection of rifles bought by the United States government in that year. United States 1792 contract rifles are Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifles with a 42-inch octagon barrel in .49 caliber, with a patchbox built into the buttstock.[2] What distinguishes them from civilian rifles is that they were bought by the government under military contract.


Before the United States military used standardized weapons with interchangeable parts, it bought rifles that are difficult to distinguish from their civilian equivalent. The process was similar to today, in which the government requests weaponry of certain specifications and then finds a manufacturer to build them. In 1792 there was a need for rifles, and a contract was drawn-up with Lancaster, Pennsylvania gunsmiths to deliver rifles.[1]

In January 1792, Henry Knox, the Secretary of War for the period, authorized former General Edward Hand to contract with manufacturers for the rifles.[1] The rifles were to be delivered in units of 100 as quickly as possible.[1] He told General Hand that the contract was for 500 rifles, but that he was willing to extend it to 1,000.[1]

The 1792 contract specified rifles with a 44 1/2 inch barrel in .47 caliber. That was modified to a 42-inch barrel in .49 caliber, with a well-seasoned maple stock and a flintlock with a fly[jargon]. Eleven different gunsmiths took the contract on, delivering 1,476 rifles between April 1792 and December 1792. A second contract for the same weapon took place in 1794. Seventeen gunsmiths delivered 2,000 rifles by November 1794.[2]

These military- or militia-issued rifles were of civilian style, and it has been very difficult for collectors to identify them from this contract. However, the military issued them to regular troops and militias and called them back to the arsenals as needed[further explanation needed]. Edward Flanagan, who wrote a paper on the 1792 and 1807 contract rifles, stated that he believed that the weapons were marked by the US government, a lesson learned from gun thefts during the Revolutionary War.[3] He pointed to a "US" stamp on the barrel of a weapon known to have been a contract rifle.[3]

A second contract rifle has been identified, the 1807 Contract Rifle, which has different specifications than the weapons of 1792 and 1794[further explanation needed].[2]

Lewis and Clark[edit]

Before their exploratory trip, the Lewis and Clark Expedition obtained rifles from the Harper's Ferry Arsenal. The US Army's website mentions the procurement of the rifles, saying that there were 300 of the 1792 or 1794 contract rifles at the arsenal at that time.[4] The Army site also refers to modern speculation that the changes Lewis had made to the contract rifles (adding sling swivels, shortening the barrel further to 33-36 inches and reboring them to a larger caliber),[4] led to the design of the US Model 1803, created six months later.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Henry Knox Secretary of War. "Papers of the War Department, Authorization to Contract with Manufacturer for Rifles". Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  2. ^ a b c The Rifle Shop, Inc. "US Contract Rifles". Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  3. ^ a b Edward R. Flanagan. "1792 and 1807 Contract Rifles" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  4. ^ a b c U.S. Army. "Corps of Discovery Rifles of the Expedition". Retrieved 2011-12-17. 

See also[edit]