Horace T. Robbins
July 31, 1861
Horace T. Robbins wanted to adapt to a changing market. For several years, the metal worker from Lewiston had concentrated on producing stoves. In the heat of the summer in 1861, however, he wrote to Governor Israel Washburn with an idea for something different. Robbins offers to make canteens that will be given to the soldiers going into war. To make his canteens desirable and financial competitive, Robbins offers to sell them to Gov. Washburn for a penny a piece less than any other offers Washburn has already received.
Robbins wanted to capitalize on Maine’s need to supply basic equipment to the soldiers. He was hardly alone. The Civil War turned the State into a major purchaser of all kinds of products. The government needed to outfit regiments and bought all sorts of goods – guns, horses, uniforms, shoes, belts, hats, and even the paper forms needed for record keeping. Robbins was not the only businessman seeking to supply personal canteens.
Lewiston was a busy town. It was a major manufacturing center during the 19th century, positioned strategically at a sharp drop in the Androscoggin River. The twin communities of Lewiston and Auburn harnessed the river’s energy and supplied many mills with the river’s power.
Lewiston was especially known for its fabric mills. The mills had the foresight to stockpile supplies of cotton from the South before the Civil War broke out. With that raw material, Lewiston thrived economically during the war.
Horace Robbins appears to have been less fortunate during the war than the Lewiston cloth industry. His request for a contract to make canteens appears to have been unanswered. By 1870, he and his family relocated to his native Massachusetts.
Questions for further thought/research:
- Much of Lewiston industry was powered by water. What resources do we use for energy today?
- Is the Androscoggin River still a source of water power?
- Horace Robbins gives several reasons in his letter for why he should be chosen to supply the canteens. What are they?