Brigadier General James W. Ripley was born in 1794 and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1814.
Although commissioned in Artillery, he was assigned as an Ordnance officer to be Commanding Officer of Kennebec Arsenal when the Ordnance Department was reestablished in 1821.
In 1841, General Ripley reported to Springfield Armory as its first military superintendent. As Commander and Superintendent, he rebuilt the Armory and introduced modern production methods.
On April 23, 1861, he became the first general officer to be Chief of Ordnance. Brigadier General Ripley served as the Chief of Ordnance until September 15, 1863. His most significant contributions came during the Civil War. He increased the production of Springfield Armory assorted weapons production from 9,661 in 1860 to 276,000 by 1864. His primary objective during the Civil War was to provide the troops with standardized, perfected weapons. He succeeded in making the Ordnance Department a production agency rather than a research facility in time of war. He was thus able to ensure that the Union Forces were abundantly supplied and that the demands of war were met.
After the war, he became the Inspector of Armament of Forts until his retirement as a Brevet Major General in February 1869. General Ripley died on March 15, 1870.