James Paris Lee

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James Paris Lee
James Paris Lee
Born James Paris Lee
(1831-08-09)9 August 1831
Hawick, Scotland Scotland
Died 24 February 1904(1904-02-24) (aged 72)
Short Beach, Connecticut, USA
Nationality  Canada,  United States
Occupation Weapons designer
Spouse(s) Caroline Chrysler Lee
Children William Lee, George Miles Lee
Relatives John Lee (brother)

James Paris Lee (9 August 1831 – 24 February 1904) was a British, Canadian and later American inventor and arms designer, best known for inventing the Lee–Metford and Lee–Enfield series of rifles.

Early Life and Career

Born in Hawick, Scotland Lee emigrated with his family to Galt, Ontario in Canada in 1836 at age 5. He built his first gun at the age of 12, using an old horse-pistol barrel, a newly carved walnut stock, and a priming pan made from a halfpenny. The gun failed to function effectively when first fired, but started Lee's interest in gunsmithing and invention.

In 1858, James Lee and his wife Caroline Lee (née Chrysler, of the later automotive family) moved to Wisconsin in the USA, where they had two sons- William (born in 1859) and George (1860).

In 1861, Lee developed a breech loading cartridge conversion for the Springfield Model 1861 Rifled Musket, managing to acquire a contract for 1,000 rifles from the US Army during the American Civil War. The Lee Civil War carbine was manufactured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 200 were delivered but due to a bore diameter error, these were rejected by the army and the weapon did not see use in the Civil War. These guns are rare and highly collectible.

The Lee Magazine Systems and Rifles

Perhaps Lee's greatest individual impact on modern small arms development came with his invention for a spring-loaded column-feed magazine system for centerfire cartridge rifles. Fitted with a charger bridge, the Lee magazine could be quickly reloaded with either single cartridges, like a tubular feed magazine, or a charger of five rounds, like the Lee or Mannlicher en bloc systems. With the magazine detached, the rifle became a single-shot weapon, a feature seen as desirable by some countries for training purposes or for maintaining control over sometimes unreliable colonial or indigenous troops. The Lee magazine was also adaptable to a variety of cartridges and bolt systems regardless of bullet shape or cartridge length. Because the cartridges were stored in a column, the Lee magazine could be easily lengthened to store additional cartridges in keeping with evolving small arms doctrine. In combat, the detachable magazine theoretically allowed a soldier to carry loaded magazines, thus speeding reloading time. At the time Lee's magazine was introduced, rifle magazines were expensive to fabricate and could not be regarded as expendable items. Lee's idea of carrying additional loaded magazines was not seen as an advantage by most major military forces at the time, who preferred to issue the soldier with loose cartridges or en bloc charger clips. Lee's detachable column-feed magazine system eventually became the pre-eminent design used in all modern military small arms.

Lee independently and concurrently developed an en bloc charger-loaded magazine along the lines of the system developed by Ferdinand von Mannlicher, which was used in the M1895 Lee Navy rifle adopted by the U.S. Navy. In 1891, Lee sued von Mannlicher, claiming that the latter's design infringed upon his en bloc magazine patent but lost the case.[1]

The Lee Model 1879 rifle, a landmark rifle design, incorporated a turnbolt action, the Lee spring-loaded column-feed magazine system and was his first successful magazine-fed rifle. The Model 1879 was adopted by China and the US Navy, and two later designs—the Remington-Lee M1885 and the Winchester-Lee or Lee Navy M1895—were also adopted militarily and sold commercially.

His bolt and magazine design soon interested British ordnance authorities and in 1889, after extensive trials, the British Army decided to adopt the Rifle, Magazine, Lee–Metford as a standard issue arm. This in turn developed into the Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee–Enfield (or SMLE), the standard British service arm for many decades and in official service for nearly a century. James Paris Lee died in Short Beach, Connecticut on 24 February 1904, having lived to see his rifles in service throughout several Colonial conflicts and the Boer War.


  1. American In A Belgian Court, The New York Times, 7 March 1894

Skennerton, Ian (1993). The Lee-Enfield Story. Gold Coast QLD (Australia): Arms & Militaria Press. ISBN 1-85367-138-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>