One of the short trips that I took this Fall was just down the road to the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. The Northeast is dotted with numerous historic sites and I found this one in my National Parks Passport book. I didn’t have to travel far to get there so I figured what the heck. Let’s go check it out.
The Springfield Armory is a small site consisting of just one building housing a museum with lots and lots of guns. But, I was surprised to learn that there’s a lot of American history that emanates from this historic site.
I’m not a gun nut but I love history and enjoy learning about the origins of things. Especially when I get to see where things came from and how things got started. So, I figure I’d share some of what I learned on this short trip.
History of the Springfield Armory
The story of the Springfield Armory starts way back at the Revolutionary War. As you all know, the fight against Great Britain for our independence was an armed conflict. There were lots of things that initiated the conflict, but the event that started the shooting part of the war was the British attempt to seize the colonists guns, gun power, and ammunition at Lexington, Mass. These items were precious to the colonists. Having just fought the French and Indian War, guns were vital for the colonist survival. And at Lexington, the British occupiers wanted to take them away.
When this event took place, there was no gun manufacturing in the American colonies. All guns were made in Europe and had to be shipped across the Atlantic. When the war started in 1776, General Knox lobbied George Washington and the Congress on the importance of establishing our own gun manufacturing. Knox knew there was no way the Continental Army could endure against the British Army unless we could build and manufacture our own guns and ammunition.
So, In 1777 General George Washington scouted a site on a bluff in Springfield, Massachusetts and approved establishing the Arsenal at Springfield. Here’s where the Continental Army began building and storing muskets and canons. It quickly expanded to include several buildings, a barracks, and ammunition magazine. A second Armory was approved by Congress in 1799 at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
The Springfield Armory was the first and became the primary gun manufacture of US military fire arms. Here’s where they made the muskets for the Revolutionary War, the muskets and pistols for the Civil War, and rifles, pistols, and machine guns for WWI and WWII. They also made swords, bayonets, and grenade launchers.
The early guns were individually hand-made. The wooden stocks were carved and shaped by hand and the barrels and parts were made by blacksmiths. With the onset of the industrial revolution, they quickly adopted mechanization, interchangeable parts, and assembly line production. The Springfield Armory developed into a huge manufacturing site employing hundreds of workers.
The Armory operated for almost 200 years – from 1777 until 1968. It produced millions of guns. It was closed in 1968 when Secretary of Defense William McNamara decided that guns for the armed services could be better produced by private enterprises.
Here’s some interesting facts;
- At the start of the Civil War the Armory at Harpers Ferry was taken by the Confederates It was burned and the machinery moved to other locations in the south. The Springfield Armory became the main site for Union arms production and made more that 1.5 million muskets for the Union Army.
- The M1903 Springfield Rifle was produced here for WWI. This was the standard issue rifle for the US troops up until the late 1930’s. It was a blot action single shot rifle that could hold 5 cartridges. The Springfield Armory produced over 1 million of these rifles.
- The M1911 semi-automatic pistol was made at Springfield and at other manufacturers. The .45 caliber pistol was the standard issue side arm for US military personnel from 1911 to 1986. Colt was the main manufacturer of these pistols but the Springfield Armory produced over 25,000.
- In 1919, Canadian born Jean Garand was working at Springfield as an engineer. He came up with a design for a semi-automatic rifle. In 1932, he patented a .30 caliber semi-automatic self-loading rifle. In 1936, this rifle was approved to replace the bolt-action Springfield M1903. The M1 Garand became the standard issue Infantry rifle for the US Army. It also became one of the most famous rifles in history. Over 4.5 million M1 Garands were produced at Springfield during WWII.
- The last small arm produced at Springfield was the M14 rifle. The M14 was an automatic version of the M1. It had a clip that could hold 15 cartridges. Variants of the M14 were also used by the army as a sniper rifle.
The Springfield Armory Today
When the Springfield Armory was closed in 1968, most of the manufacturing equipment was sold off. Also, some of the outer potions of the property were sold. But much of the core site (35 acres and buildings) was given to the city and the state. It now houses the Springfield Technical Community College.
The Springfield Armory National Historic Site is on the college campus. It occupies one the buildings, the Main Arsenal Building. It was designated (and opened) as a National Historic Site in 1978. There’s a museum on the first floor with numerous gun and machinery exhibits. The second floor holds one of the largest small arms gun collections in the world. This collection is used for research and not open to the public.
The Springfield Armory is located in downtown Springfield, Mass. There is no fee to visit this site. For me, it was fascinating to learn about this history of gun manufacturing and see some of the famous exhibits.