I had the opportunity to visit the Springfield Armory National Historic Site in October 2010. This wonderful site includes examples of many of the shoulder fired arms produced in its armory. Located on the Connecticut River, in Springfield, Massachusetts, it was originally the Arsenal at Springfield. The arsenal was founded in 1777 and was converted to a manufacturing armory in 1793. The site for this armory was originally designated by General George Washington. The site was largely chose due to adequate water power. Additionally it was located far enough upstream, on the river, to be out of reach of attacking naval forces.
The Springfield Armory produced its first shoulder fired musket in 1795. It would produce 220 flintlock muskets during its first year. The original firearms produced were handmade and no two guns were exactly alike. In 1819, Thomas Blanchard, a craftsman at the armory, built a lathe that allowed mass production of identical rifle stocks. The Blanchard Lathe would be instrumental in the development of mass production techniques at the armory. In the 184o’s, after nearly 50 years of producing flintlock muskets, the armory began producing percussion ignition system muskets. These guns were much more reliable and would be the genesis for the Model 1855 musket which included a rifled barrel.
The Springfield Armory would build the “standard” Civil War rifled musket. The Model 1861 Springfield rifle would be the most popular shoulder fired rifle during the Civil War. The armory would produce nearly 700,000 of these muskets besides converting thousands of 1840 model flintlocks to percussion ignition. In the 1870′s the armory would again be busy converting the muzzle loading Civil War rifles to single-shot breech-loading rifles.
Springfield Armory would produce guns for the Spanish-American War and World War I. The Model 1903 rifle featured a clip with bolt-action feed mechanism. In 1924, John Garand invented the first semi-automatic rifle. The “Garand” rifle would later be named the M1. Officially adopted by the U.S. Army in 1936, the M1 would be the largest production rifle built at Springfield. All told, 4.5 million of these rugged, dependable rifles were produced at the armory. The last rifle produced at Springfield Armory was the M14. This rifle would further be refined and re-designated the M21. Besides semi-automatic rifles, the armory would also develop machine guns.
The Springfield Armory would officially close in 1968 when Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, brought the assembly lines to a stop. After nearly two hundred years, the famous Federal armory had made its last gun. Since then, military weapons are produced by private defense contractors. In 1974, Robert Reese, opened a new gun manufacturing operation – Springfield Armory, Inc. This privately held company, in Geneseo, Illinois, produces semi-automatic rifles and handguns. They have no connection with the original Springfield Armory – a name forever linked to the United States Armed Forces.
To view my photo essay on Springfield Armory National Historic Site, click HERE.
* Besides materials printed by the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, Wikipedia was used to research this article.