Lesson Plan: Weapon Makers That Transformed America

Timeframe and Debate

Former Baltimore Sun reporter John Bainbridge Jr., author of Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented, provides an overview of his book and its connection to the present day.


This lesson plan opens with reflective question that asks students to reflect on the role that guns play in American society. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to two introductory video clips that present an overview of John Bainbridge Jr.'s book "Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them," describes its connection to the present day, and summarizes the role guns play in American culture. Next, students engage in an engagement activity, where they view three video clips that detail comprehensive aspects of the history of gun manufacturing in the United States, including the role of the Connecticut River Valley, the contributions of innovators, and how the military has served as a large customer throughout history. Students then watch a video clip detailing the contributions of Samuel Colt, before they choose to study Eliphalet Remington, Oliver Winchester, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, or Christopher Miner Spencer. After viewing the video clip for their selected individual, students then view three additional clips with supplementary information about patents, the Civil War, and the post-Civil War period, and then prepare a presentation comparing the impact of Colt with their chosen individual. The lesson concludes with a reflective video clip before students respond to a summative writing prompt.


  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resource for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Doc).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.


    Pose the following brainstorming question to your students, directing them to record their responses in their graphic organizer, share with a partner, and then with the class if they choose.

    • What role(s) do guns play in American society?

    Play the following two introductory video clips of former Baltimore Sun reporter and author of Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented John Bainbridge Jr., in which he provides an overview of his book, describes its connection to the present day, and summarizes the role guns play in American culture. Direct your students to answer the following questions on their graphic organizer.

  • Clip #1: Timeframe and Debate (4:57).

    • According to John Bainbridge Jr., what will readers of his book learn?
    • What timeframe does Bainbridge’s work cover? Why?
    • Based on the clip, what lessons does Gun Barons provide relevant to the present-day debates regarding guns? What example does Bainbridge provide?
  • Clip #2: Unique Feature of American Culture (1:37).

    • How is the United States “unique?”
    • What “notion” does John Bainbridge Jr. “set up” in the introduction of his book?
    • In what other way does Bainbridge say the United States is unique, and how does this complicate the ongoing gun debate?

    Direct your students to their graphic organizers to view and define the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the chart in their graphic organizer handout. The vocabulary words are also listed to the right on this webpage. We recommend having your students define and present the terms in a jigsaw activity to save time.

    Depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students define and present the terms in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student takes one or two items. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson. Note: This is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you previewing the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.


    Direct students to the engagement section of their graphic organizers. Have students students view each of the three video clip, take notes, and answer each question. Direct students to prepare to present their findings with the class when finished.

  • Clip #3: Connecticut River Valley (2:02).

    • According to John Bainbridge Jr., why was the Connecticut River Valley a preferred place for gun manufacturing?
    • Based on the clip, what was the Springfield Armory?
    • What “sharing” was occurring in the region?
  • Clip #4: Innovation of Arms and Ammunition (8:20).

    • What were the “biggest drivers of innovation” for firearms?
    • According to John Bainbridge Jr., what role did the “inventiveness” of the gun industry play in innovation?
    • Why was the “self-contained cartridge” an important innovation?
    • What about the inventors “surprised” Bainbridge? What examples does he provide?
    • Based on the clip, compare the relationship between the innovation of firearms and of ammunition.
  • Clip #5: The Military as Customer (2:07).

    • Based on the clip, what relationship “pattern” existed between the military and gun manufacturers?
    • What critique to this notion does John Bainbridge Jr. offer?
    • How did gun manufacturers often get “over-extended,” and how did they respond?

    PART 1

    Have your students view the application section of their graphic organizer. Direct them to view Clip #6, take notes, and answer questions about the contributions of Samuel Colt.

    Clip #6: Samuel Colt (7:07).

    • How does John Bainbridge Jr. describe Samuel Colt?
    • What did Colt “patent” in 1836, and why was it “extremely efficient?”
    • Based on the clip, in what “foresighted” way did Colt organize his gun production process?
    • What relationship did Colt have with politicians, according to Bainbridge?
    • Describe the scope and impact of Colt’s wealth.
  • PART 2

    Then, have your students choose one of the additional individuals listed below, watch the related clip, and respond to the questions that follow, using the graphic organizer to record their responses.

    Clip #7: Eliphalet Remington (1:45).

    Clip #8: Oliver Winchester (2:41).

    Clip #9: Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson (2:48).

    Clip #10: Christopher Miner Spencer (3:15).

    • What skill(s) did the individual have?
    • How did the individual enter the business?
    • What is the individual’s main contribution?
  • PART 3

    Finally, guide your students to conduct additional research into their selected individual and compare the individual's contributions with Samuel Colt. Direct your students to begin preparing a presentation to share their findings with the class.


    As your students prepare their presentation from the application activity, have them view the following three clips, take notes, and answer the related questions. Encourage your students to consider using the information from this section in their presentations.

  • Clip #11: Patent Wars (2:36).

    • What event led to the ending of gun manufacturers sharing information, according to John Bainbridge Jr.?
    • Describe the “patent battle” that ensued and the continued effects.
  • Clip #12: The Civil War and Post War Era (5:02).

    • According to John Bainbridge Jr., which side(s) did the gun manufacturers support during the Civil War?
    • What does Bainbridge mean when he says America “renegotiated its relationship with weaponry” after the Civil War?
    • Based on the clip, what “consequence” did firearms have during the Battle of Little Bighorn?
  • Clip #13: Surprising Information (5:38).

    • What did John Bainbridge Jr. “uncover” during his research?
    • Based on the clip, why was Abraham Lincoln a “gun guy?"
    • According to Bainbridge, how were the gun manufacturers “risk takers?” What examples does he provide?

    Allow time for your students to prepare and share their presentations from the application section of the lesson. Then, direct your students to view the following clip that offers reflective thoughts.

    Have your students record their notes and answers to the questions in their graphic organizers and share with a partner, small group, or the class.

    Clip #14: Impact (1:08).

    • What impact did the gun manufacturers of the 1800s have on the country and society, according to John Bainbridge Jr.?

    After your students are finished with the reflective clips, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt in their graphic organizers, and have students share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates' perspectives: Having now learned about the contributions of 1800s American gun manufacturers, describe their legacy today. Be sure to include evidence from the video clips and your research to support your response.

Additional Resources


  • 2nd Amendment
  • Abolitionist
  • Baron
  • Battle Of Little Bighorn (1876)
  • Centennial
  • Civil War (1861-65)
  • Continental Congress
  • Declaration Of Independence
  • Division Of Labor
  • Indentured
  • Infantry
  • Mass Production
  • Mexican American War (1846-48)
  • Militia
  • Millatreuse
  • Patent
  • Repeating Rifle
  • Revolver


Gun Rights & Firearm LegislationScience & TechnologyU.S. History


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