Springfield Armory Museum - Collection Record

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Maker/Manufacturer:MCCLEAN, SAMUEL
Date of Manufacture:
Eminent Figure:MCCLEAN, SAMUEL
Catalog Number:SPAR 12
Measurements:OL:109.2CM 43" BL:

Object Description:

Manufactured by Automatic Arms Co., Buffalo, N.Y. - Experimental McClean machine gun. Equipped to use a top-mounted Lewis-type 146-shot drum magazine. Only 3 samples known to exist today.

Receiver (left side): X1. No other markings.

Weapon donated to the Springfield Armory NHS by Savage Arms, Westfield, Ma. on 17 October 1978.

Weapon appraised by Gillie & Company, Cos Cob, Connecticut, on May 5, 1978 as follows: "Machine-Gun, McClean-Lissak, Experimental, Cal. .30. $1,100. Serial number X-1 (registered as U-1), manufactured by Automatic Arms Corps., Buffalo, N.Y. Invented by Dr. Samuel N. McClean and promoted by Lt. Col. O.M. Lissak, USA. This is the latter version of the Model 1904 equipped to use a top-mounted Lewis-type 146 shot drum magazine. Very little is known about this weapon except for the fact that it influenced Col. Isaac Lewis, inventor of the Lewis Gun. Supposedly, there are three known examples of the McClean-Lissak gun, one being the gun in your possession. Unknown if the gun is in working order. Condition very good."

1901 - 1JAN-30JUN - "Test of Automatic Machine Gun, submitted by the American Arms Company. Report forwarded to Ordnance Office: May 7, 1904."

Notes: "Although the ultimate design of the Lewis gun rests with Isaac Lewis, the basic invention was not totally his own concept. Many of the theories of this weapon are credited to Dr. Samuel N. McLean, a Cleveland, Ohio inventor.
Born in Iowa on 7 January 1857, Samuel N. McClean received his medical degree from the University of Iowa in 1855. He practiced medicine in Washington, Iowa for the next eleven years, until his increasing interest in ordnance development took him completely away from medicine. McLean left Iowa for Cleveland, Ohio in the 1890's.
McClean's initial ordnance patent was granted 5 April 1898. With financial backing from some wealthy Cleveland investors, Dr. McLean founded McClean Arms & Ordnance Company in 1900. By this time the forty-three-year-old physician turned gun inventor was already a recognized figure in the ordnance research field, with forty-four U.S. and many foreign patents to his credit.
Working with an Army ordnance expert, the innovative Samuel McLean produced his prototype light machine gun. It weighed only nineteen pounds, and had fewer operating parts than the then standard Benet-Mercie. Its inventor claimed that the barrel could be changed in half the time required by other guns.
Discussing his invention with reporters, McClean said: "A machine gun is a noble thing as the mechanism which accomplishes the greatest amount of human destruction in the shortest possible time with the least difficulty.'
The amazed reporters wondered how so much destruction could possibly be called noble. The smiling inventor explained that his device would shorten wars and create peace because of its awesome power. Said McLean:
'Gentlemen, the machine gun may make war obsolete, for what rational man would throw his life away senselessly in front of one.'
Samuel McClean spent several hundred thousand dollars on design development to perfect his machine gun. In addition to nearly a half-million dollars of investor money for an automatic cannon. As his failure to impress military buyers increased, his economic plight became unstable. Like many other designers, he was forced to relinquish control of his ideas for cash. By 1906 he had not lost financial control of McLean Arms & Ordnance Company to his investors.
Late in 1907, five of McClean's financial backers, led by Morris A. Bradley, reorganized the management of the company and raised several thousand dollars needed to keep the business solvent. Early the following year, the management of the company brought two consultants to Cleveland: a premier ordnance salesman, Charles Dalley, and Isaac N. Lewis.
On 12 January 1910, the five major McClean stockholders, again led by Morris Bradley, wrote to the other investors in the company, announcing that the business was on the verge of colla'Recently we consulted a leading ordnance expert who states, as his own opinion, that, while the guns produced are excellent ones, the company will be unable to do any business with our own government and that it has little chance of doing business abroad unless a satisfactory air-cooled machine gun is produced.'
One could infer that the 'leading ordnance expert' was Isaac Lewis, who at the time of the letter was involved in discussions with Robert Chalfe, a Cleveland attorney, and Henry Rudd, an arms salesman with an international reputation as a wheeler-dealer; representing the McClean majority stockholders. Encouraged by Chalfe and Rudd, Lewis had quietly started working on his own design for the air-cooled machine gun mentioned in the letter.
It appeared certain the McClean firm was rushing down the financial drain early in 1910, even as Calfee and Rudd met to discuss the future of the firm's holding and the McClean patents. Later, Rudd wrote Calfe that he had spoken with Lewis, who said he had, '...the best thing he ever heard of in connection with a machine gun.'
Late in April, Isaac Lewis and Robert Calfe met with the Cleveland money men behind the McClean reorganization. They discussed the reasons for keeping the ordnance firm alive and the sales potential of the Lewis development of the McClean patents. Isaac Lewis told them that he had just applied for a patent for his revolutionary air-cooling device for a machine-gun. He wanted to use some of the McClean patents with certain of his own ideas to produce a brand new, air-cooled, light machine gun.
On 26 May 1910, Henry Rudd, now a company official, wrote an open letter to stockholders of the McClean Arms and Ordnance Company, indicating he was interested in salvaging the patents and prototypes of the McClean inventions and in forming a new company. His major interest, he noted, was in foreign development of the company's products.
By this time Samuel N. McClean had been literally forced from his own company. The unfortunate inventor, while a whiz at ordnance, was not a businessman. Financial backing ceased and his company went out of business. Then, under the leadership of thirty-four year old legal genius Robert Calfe, and with the money of Morris Bradley, the business was reorganized under the name Automatic Arms Company.
Samuel McClean left Cleveland and took a job with General Motors, as a design engineer. Yet he never got completely away from the ordnance field, continuing to develop and test machine guns.
In 1920, McClean instituted a suit against Bradley, Calfe, et al. to recover damages allegedly due him in the transfer of his patents to Automatic Arms Company. He claimed it had been a fraudulent transaction and a conspiracy to steal his designs.
Although not named in the McClean suit, Lewis testified as a witness in March of 1922. Samuel McClean also testified, and in one portion of his testimony made strong inference that Isaac Lewis used many ideas from the McClean gun in his own Lewis gun.
Other witnesses completely demolished the McClean claim. The trial contained a great deal of technical testimony as to operating differences in weapon design, patent exclusions, and corporate law. In a plain, simple statement, Isaac Lewis demonstrated how the important areas of the McClean gun could be duplicated using common concepts unprotected by patents. His clear, precise testimony was a major factor in the court's decision, which went against Dr. McClean. The decision was appealed, but in 1924 the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refuted all the McClean claims.
While McClean's marvelous invention served as the basis for the Lewis gun, and many hundreds of thousands of dollars passed through the doctor's hands, only three known McClean's guns remain today. One is in the Quantico Marine Museum in Quantico, Virginia: one is at the H.F. White Laboratories in Bel Air, Maryland, and the third is in the Savage Arms Company Museum. All are large, water-cooled model machine guns." - Truby

"In the United States as guns, while contracts were given to the Savage Arms Company in America for more of them. By 1917 Savage was making 400 guns a month.
While Lewis was a good ground gun, it became better known as an aircraft observer's gun. It appears that the first combat use of the Lewis in the air was on 22 August 1914, when two British pilots took a Lewis up and opened fire on a German Albatross, although without success. As well as being employed as a 'free' gun - that is, one which could be swung about freely by the observer - it was also used as a 'fixed' gun, mounted on the upper wing of the SE fighter, for example, and fired by a cable control from the cockpit. A quick-release mounting allowed the gun to be swung down by the pilot to change the drum magazine, and the positioning of the gun allowed it to be fired outside the arc of the spinning propeller.
As a ground gun the Lewis showed some advantages which had not been considered before. In the first place, it could be made for about one-fifth the cost in time and material required for a Vickers gun; in the second place it was a good deal more portable and could easily be carried by one man in an assault, taking the firepower with him instead of leaving it behind to cover from a distance.
Slowly but surely the concept of the light machine-gun came into being. True, there was little chance for the concept to take much hold in the static war of the trenches, but when the opportunities for movement arose the advantages of a light-weight machine-gun could not be denied." - Ian Hogg

Hogg, Ian. THE COMPLETE MACHINE GUN: 1885 TO THE PRESENT. Exeter Books. N.Y., N.Y. 1979.
Truby, J. David. THE LEWIS GUN. Paladin Press. Boulder, Colorado. 1976.

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