For Museum Day, Windsor’s American Precision museum opens up about manufacturing

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2019 10:22:49 PM
Modified: 9/21/2019 10:25:38 PM

WINDSOR — As a 10-year-old boy, Steve Dalessio spent so much of his time at a machine shop near his New Jersey home that he wound up with a broom in his hand, sweeping the shop floors for a few cents an hour.

“I think the owner said, ‘This kid’s always hanging around, so let’s put him to work,’ ” Dalessio said Saturday morning as he prepared for Museum Day at the American Precision Museum in Windsor.

In 50 years, his enthusiasm for machinery hasn’t dimmed a bit. As the new executive director of the museum, Dalessio, 61, is eager to share the history of precision manufacturing in ways that connect the past with the future. And Museum Day, a nationwide event that uses free admission to encourage people to visit participating museums, was great chance for his to do just that.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store all the time,” said Dalessio, who lives in Walpole, N.H., and took on his new role in September. “Manufacturing is in my blood ... and this is where it all began.”

Packed with machines ranging from utilitarian behemoths to elegant fusions of form and function, from Victorian-era archetypes to 21st-century innovations, the museum traces the history of American manufacturing from its roots here in this four-story brick building to the present day. Once an armory where Civil War rifles were first mass-produced using water-powered machines, the building was narrowly saved from demolition in 1966 by Smithsonian curator Edwin Battison and turned into a museum. Over the years, the museum has expanded to house the largest collection of historically significant machine tools in the country.

As he takes over as director, Dalessio plans to create new exhibits that engage visitors and build on ongoing efforts to draw more young people to the museum. Next year, the museum will debut a metrology exhibit, showing how uniform measurements transformed the manufacturing industry, as well as adding more interactive exhibits and showcasing some new machines.

“I want to show how the events that happened here transformed the world into what we see today,” said Dalessio, formerly the general manager of Lake Machine Company in Claremont and longtime chair of the Precision Museum’s board of trustees.

In his new role, Dalessio also wants to demonstrate that manufacturing is alive and well in the United States and that it’s driven by the kind of innovation that comes from tinkering and asking what if? He likes to ask young people: “If God gave us 10 fingers, why do we just use our thumbs?”

To that end, the museum recently added a learning lab that hosts school groups and offers numerous hands-on projects for kids of all ages. For Museum Day, Education Director Scott Davison was making musical instruments on the museum’s 3D printers: jaw harps, kazoos and shakers in the shape of chili peppers. He’d also set up some low-tech music stations, including a makeshift drum set utilizing a concrete mold and some plastic spools, and a typewriter as an unusual addition to the percussion section.

“The typewriter has been one of our top exhibits all summer,” Davison said.

Since joining the museum last year, Davison has been trying to bring new energy to the topic of manufacturing by building connections across different disciplines and finding ways to make it relevant to new audiences.

“If there’s anything that’s key, it’s igniting that spark,” he said.

As noon approached, few young people had shown up for Museum Day, but a steady trickle of visitors wandered through the building all morning. Drew Hamilton and Elizabeth Larison drove up from Brooklyn, N.Y., to see the collection.

“We made a whole vacation out of it,” Larison said.

Hamilton found out about the museum on social media, through a machine enthusiast hashtag he follows. “There’s been a lot of posts about this on Instagram,” he said. “It put it on the map for me.”

The couple were most enthralled with a collection of intricately designed machine models made by craftsman John Aschauer, representing some 25,000 hours of painstaking work.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Hamilton said. “I’m in heaven.”

Sarah Earle can be reached at or 603-727-3268.

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