Location: Springfield, Massachusetts
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Springfield Armory was the primary manufacturing location for U.S. military firearms from 1777-1968. During the Revolutionary War, it was the primary arsenal for the Continental Army. This location was chosen because it lays at the intersection of three rivers, including the major Connecticut River and four main roads to New York City, Boston, Albany, and Montreal. Yet it is north of the falls on the Connecticut River meaning the British could not attack it from ships. After the Revolutionary War, in 1787, it was the site of Shay’s Rebellion when disgruntled citizens upset with the taking of property to pay debts incurred during the war, attempted to capture the arms and ammunition at the arsenal. The rebels were stopped by artillery and scattered by militia to end the rebellion, however, it helped convince states to ratify the Constitution to strengthen the Federal Government. Beginning in 1795, the arsenal became an armory by manufacturing firearms for the military, along with Harpers Ferry in Virginia. In the beginning, all firearms were made by hand which meant they were each unique without interchangeable parts. In 1819, Thomas Blanchard a special lathe for the mass production of wooden stocks and other improvements developed at Springfield and Harpers Ferry led to the assembly line system of mass production of interchangeable parts. When Harpers Ferry Armory was destroyed in the Civil War, Springfield became the sole provider of firearms for the Union Army until the Rhode Island arsenal was established in 1862. Even though breach loaded rifles were under development before the Civil War, the huge quantities of rifles needed for the Civil War had to rely on muzzle loaded muskets. However, following the Civil War, the army was faced with the situation either discarding all of the muskets or converting them into the newer breach loaded models. In 1865, Springfield Armory introduced the “Allin Conversion” which became the “trapdoor” Springfield rifles. In 1891, a new division was created at Springfield becoming the main laboratory for the Army to develop and test new designs. In 1900 they developed a clip loading magazine rifle known as Model 1903. By World War I, the United State Army had just under 850,000 Model 1903 rifles, which was still insufficient for the war. During the war, Springfield produced over 250,000 more Model 1903 rifles. The next major advance was the development of the semi-automatic rifle leading to the M1 rifle in 1936. Over the entire life of this rifle through World War II over 2.5 million were produced at Springfield. The last small arms rifle developed and produced at Springfield was the M14 which has evolved over the years into the sniper rifle M21. In addition to rifles, Springfield also developed and produced pistols, swords, machine guns, grenade launchers, and associated equipment. By the Vietnam War, most of the production of rifles was being done by private contractors and Springfield was primarily used for testing. Springfield was closed in 1968 with the core facilities retained by the Federal Government to become the National Historic Site. As of 2011, the 35 acres behind the arsenal houses Springfield Technical Community College.
1) Most of the original buildings at the Armory are not part of the Community College, which means that except for the exterior, there is nothing left of historical interest. Even the Water Shops Armory down by the river has been replaced by other industrial buildings. All that is left of historical interest are the Arsenal itself and the Commander’s house, which is now offices. The Visitor Center is located within the Arsenal. There is a short movie that gives a great overview of the history and accomplishments of the Springfield Armory.
2) The museum is split into two parts on either side of the main floor of the Arsenal. On one side is the history of the technology beginning with water, then steam, and finally electricity. There are numerous displays that lead you through the different periods. The most impressive display is the original lathe created by Thomas Blanchard to mass produce rifle stocks. It used a metal stock as a template to create a copy on the lathe. It is a fascinating machine.
3) The other side of the museum is devoted to the history of the rifles and other products that have been produced at the Armory. It is an amazing display of rifles from the muzzle loaded muskets, the trapdoor conversions, the Model 1903, the world renown Springfield Rifle used in the Wild West, to the M1 rifle of WWII and everything in between. It also includes experimental models that were tested along the way. The most impressive feature was the Organ of Muskets that show how the muskets would have been stored in the Arsenal. This is by far the largest collection of Civil War muskets that I have ever seen in one place.
4) We took a walk around the grounds, but there is not much you can see besides the general layout of the Arsenal. In total it took only a couple of hours to tour the museum and grounds.