Christian Sharps, the inventor of the first successful breech loading rifle, was born in Washington, New Jersey in 1810. He married Sarah Elizabeth Chadwick of Mill Creek (Philadelphia), Pennsylvania. The couple had two children, a daughter Satella and son Leon Stewart.
Sharps was issued a patent for his design on September 12, 1848. He was awarded a total of fifteen firearms-related patents. Although not the first breech-loading rifle, Sharps' was the first to be accepted widely and, with the onset of the American Civil War, the first to be produced in large quantities. The Sharps, in a carbine version, was the most widely-used cavalry carbine by the Union Army. It was so successful that it was copied and manufactured by the Confederate government to arm its mounted troops. Sharps' designed firearms later saw extensive use in the American West as military and hunting weapons. They were also highly regarded as target rifles and were used extensively in international shooting competitions through the late 1800s.
Sharps began work as a youth when, it is believed, that he was an apprentice to a gunsmith in Washington, New Jersey. He then accepted a position at the Harpers Ferry Arsenal in the 1830s. While at Harpers Ferry, Sharps was introduced to the Hall rifle, an early breech-loader, and worked for its inventor, Captain John H. Hall. The Hall rifle was produced at Harpers Ferry. The deficiencies of the Hall rifle may have caused Sharps to adopt his new design. Sharps also became versed in the manufacture of weapons with fully interchangeable parts. The Sharps rifle was designed with a vertical dropping block action, operated by a lever which also served as a trigger guard. The action was not only strong but limited the release of gases when the gun was discharged. Sharps' first rifle, the Model 1849, was manufactured by A.S. Nippes & Co. at Mill Creek (Manayunk, Philadelphia County), Pennsylvania.
Although the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company bore his name, Christian Sharps was not the company's principal owner. He left the firm, first to form C. Sharps and Company in 1853 and then Sharps & Hankins, in partnership with William Hankins, in 1862. Both firms were located in Philadelphia. The Sharps and Hankins partnership ended in 1866 and Sharps resumed the manufacturing of firearms under the C. Sharps and Company name.
During 1870 Sharps and his family moved to Vernon, Connecticut where he continued working on firearms design and started a large trout farming business. Succumbing to tuberculosis, Sharps died in Vernon, on March 12, 1874.
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- Daily National Intelligencer, 21 October 1850.