Springfield Armory National Historic Site
The Springfield Armory, more formally known as the United States Armory and Arsenal at Springfield located in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, was the primary center for the manufacture of United States military firearms from 1777 until its closing in 1968. It was the first federal armory and one of the first factories in the United States dedicated to the manufacture of weapons. The site is preserved as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, Western Massachusetts’ only unit of the national park system. It features the world’s largest collection of historic American firearms. Famous first as the United States primary arsenal during the American Revolutionary War, and then as the scene of a confrontation during Shays’ Rebellion, the Springfield Armory in the 19th and 20th centuries became the site of numerous technological innovations of global importance, including interchangeable parts, the assembly line style of mass production, and modern business practices, such as hourly wages. The facility would play a decisive role in the American Civil War, producing most of the weaponry used by Union troops which, in sum, outpaced Confederate firearm production by a ratio of 32 to 1. American historian Merritt Roe Smith has posited that advancements in machine manufacturing which allowed the facility to increase production capacity by more than 25 fold, from 9,601 rifles in 1860 to 276,200 in 1864, served as a precursor to the mass production of the Second Industrial Revolution and 20th century assembly line production. The numerous firearm models produced at the Springfield Armory from 1794 to 1968 are referred to as “Springfield muskets and rifles”. Don’t forget to check out this place in Springfield too.
The Armory played a major role in providing weapons for the American Army during the War of 1812. Its monthly reports to the War Department are online, and they indicate it made 9588 new muskets in 1814 and repaired 5190 old ones that year. It several times reported that its funding had been delayed. Fueled by the Springfield Armory, the City of Springfield quickly became a national center for invention and development. In 1819 Thomas Blanchard developed a special lathe for the consistent mass production of rifle stocks. Thomas Blanchard worked at Springfield Armory for 5 years. The lathe enabled an unskilled workman to quickly and easily turn out identical irregular shapes. The large drum turned two wheels: a friction wheel that followed the contours of the metal rifle pattern, and the cutting wheel that imitated the movements of the friction wheel to make an exact replica of the pattern in wood. In the 1840s the old flintlock gave way to a percussion ignition system that increased the reliability and simplicity of longarms.
The Springfield Armory was largely involved in the growth and influence of the Industrial Revolution. Much of this grew out of the military’s fascination with interchangeable parts, which was based on the theory that it would be easier to simply replace firearm parts than make battlefield repairs. Mass production of truly interchangeable parts demanded greater use of machines, improved gauging, quality control, and division of labor; all characteristics of the Industrial Revolution. From these individual components, the concept of the assembly line was devised. The Springfield Armory also contributed to improved business management techniques. Colonel Roswell Lee, hired as superintendent in 1815, brought centralized authority, cost accounting for payroll, time, and materials, and increased discipline to a manufacturing environment—all business practices still in use today. In 1843, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited the Armory and wrote his poem “The Arsenal at Springfield.” The anti-war poem described the rows of finished guns, by that point 1,000,000 stockpiled there, stored vertically in open racks: “Like a huge organ, rise the burnished arms.” An invaluable bit of U.S. national heritage, Springfield Armory manufactured firearms for the nation’s military for almost two hundred years up to 1968. It’s rooted in the American Revolutionary War in 1777 as George Washington’s main arsenal, and from then on the armory made countless innovations, such as mass production and gun parts that would work with several different models. Browse the museum to see one of America’s most extensive collections of vintage guns spanning two centuries and learn about some of the technological leaps that took place in the armory. If you are ever in need of a cabinet maker, click here.