Written by Whiskey
Years ago, while on a work trip to Springfield, MA which brought me downtown I was impressed by a campus of buildings surrounded by iron fence and gated entrances to what was apparently, the Springfield Armory. I saved that in mind as a thing to do someday – go back there and check it out. Now a museum, and part of the National Park System, the “US Armory and Arsenal at Springfield” was commissioned by George Washington in 1777 (another was commissioned at Harpers Ferry, VA) in order to provide weapons and ammunition to supply the militia during the war for independence. Previously, muskets in the hands of colonists were imported, or made by small regional builders. During a recent work trip Wine and I found ourselves going through Springfield and I remembered I wanted to check it out – so we did. The Springfield Armory Museum remains on what is now the campus of Springfield Technical Community College. During our trip there was what appears to be intense digging for soil remediation – imagine there might be dirty dirt at a former weapons and ammo manufacturing plant? The main entrance to the museum building itself is under renovation, but that didn’t detract from how cool the place is. We were greeted cheerfully by Sue, a Park Ranger, who inquired how much we knew about “The Armory”. I know a lot about firearms but confessed to little knowledge about The Armory. Sue was delighted to give us a comprehensive yet quick summary of the whole building and grounds. Looking around, first impressions are all the rifles in display cases all over the place.
We would soon learn The Arsenal houses the world’s largest collection of historic American military firearms. A short movie gives an excellent overview of the history of the Arsenal. Patrons are then encouraged to self-guided tours of the firearms collection on one side of the building, and the manufacturing equipment and tooling on the other.
First on display is a collection of handguns. I was puzzled why they did not have an 1847 Walker Colt – an enormous pistol, which precedes the Dragoon model at the top of this case; however, 10,500 of the Dragoons were made an only 1,100 Walker Colts – so likely they are exceedingly rare and expensive to acquire. Moving in a counter-clockwise direction one will weave between several cases displaying very early muskets - some with one-piece stocks that are nearly 6 feet long – and numerous variants of the Model 1795 Flintlock. Also included are the French Infantry musket that the 1795 copied, Italian, German and others. I learned that those 6-foot one-piece stocks were made by hand by skilled craftsmen until 1819, when an Armory employee, Thomas Blanchard, developed a wood turning lathe that could consistently mass produce wooden stocks from a steel pattern. Fast forward to 1842 and mass production methods were in full swing. The U.S. Model 1842 Musket was the first U.S. weapon made at both the Harpers Ferry and Springfield Armories with fully interchangeable parts. The collection includes a lot of experimental and prototype long guns, and houses the famous Springfield 1903 rifle, serial numbers 1 and 1,000,000 (in addition to numerous others). The bolt action 1903 Springfield would travel the globe carried by American troops during WW1 and is still considered one of the most accurate weapons ever made.
I also learned that John Garand - whose name is associated with the U.S. M1 Rifle (“The Garand”), the first semiautomatic rifle to be put into active military service – was an employee of the Arsenal. From 1936 to 1945, 3.5 million M1 rifles were mass produced. The collection includes M1 Garand serial number 1 and 100,000.
The M14 rifle was a magazine fed variant of the M1 and was used from the 1950’s until the military phased it out in 1966. By the 1960’s, private arms manufacturers were making better products than the Armory. Eugene Stoner developed the AR15, a platform that would be sold to Colt and eventually adopted by the US Army as the M16 rifle and M4 carbine.
Springfield Armory had nothing to do with those. Springfield Armory would continue to manufacture machine guns, grenade launchers and specialized sniper rifles on the M14 platform and experimental and prototype designs into the Vietnam war era; however, by 1968 weapons manufacturing was outsourced to private contractors who were simply making better arms and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced the Springfield Armory would close. The Armory had already been designated a national historic landmark in 1960 and in 1974 Congress passed an act creating the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. It is maintained through a partnership between the National Park Service, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Springfield Technical Community College, and the City of Springfield. Admission is free.
Here are Wine's photos of the museum. Click on a photo to open a slide show.