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Springfield Armory National Historic Site
The First and Last National Armory
|Location:||Armory Sq., Springfield, Massachusetts|
|Architectural style:||Greek Revival|
|Added to NRHP:||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHLD:||December 19, 1960|
The Springfield Armory, located in the City of Springfield, Massachusetts—from 1777 until its closing in 1968—was the primary center for the manufacture of U.S. military firearms. After its controversial closing during the Vietnam War, the Springfield Armory was declared Western Massachusetts' only National Park. It features the world's largest collections of historic firearms.
Famous first as the United States' primary arsenal during the U.S. Revolutionary War, and then as the battlefield of Shays's Rebellion, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Springfield Armory 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. Numerous firearm models produced at the Springfield Armory from 1794 to 1968 were referred to as "Springfield rifles". For several decades, the United States featured a second National Armory, the Harpers Ferry Armory in Virginia. Ironically, the Harper's Ferry Armory was destroyed during the American Civil War at the incitement of former Springfield resident and abolitionist, John Brown. The Harper's Ferry Armory was never reconstructed. Thus the Springfield Armory was America's first National Armory—its site was chosen in 1777 by George Washington and Henry Knox—and its last National Armory, closed in 1968.
Local and colonial militia used the bluff on which the Springfield Armory would become located during the 17th century for militia training, particularly after the Attack on Springfield during King Phillip's War.
In 1777, George Washington himself scouted and approved the site of the Springfield Armory, after it was referred to him by Henry Knox. Although a small town at the time, Springfield, Massachusetts, offered obvious geographical advantages—it lay at the intersection of three rivers (including the major Connecticut River), and four major highways headed toward New York City, Boston, Albany, New York, and Montreal, Canada. Additionally, Springfield is located just north of the Connecticut River's first waterfall, (Enfield Falls,) which is too steep to be navigated by ocean-going vessels. Thus, Springfield was the first town on the Connecticut River protected from sea attack.
The Armory site itself sits atop a high bluff like a citadel, overlooking a wide stretch of the Connecticut River, and it confluence with the Westfield River. Colonel Henry Knox, Chief of Artillery for General Washington, concurred with Washington that "the plain just above Springfield is perhaps one of the most proper spots on every account" for the location of an arsenal.
In 1777, patriot colonists established "The Arsenal at Springfield" to manufacture cartridges and gun carriages for the American Revolutionary War. During the Revolution, the arsenal stored muskets, cannon, and other weapons. Patriots built barracks, shops, storehouses, and a magazine. Some doubt exists regarding whether the colonists manufactured arms during the Revolutionary War.After the war, the Army kept the facility to store arms for future needs. By the 1780s, Springfield Arsenal functioned as a major ammunition and weapons arsenal.
In 1786, Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War hero, became one of the leaders of a large group of rebels, who came mostly from Western Massachusetts, but also from surrounding states. These rebels had grievances with the Government of Massachusetts, which ranged from land seizure for debts incurred while fighting the Revolutionary War to the paucity of paper money, to the desire for the Commonwealth to move its capital from Boston to a mid-point in the State. Rebels planned to use the Armory's weapons to force the closure of the State and county courts, and thus make their grievances law, enforceable by the largest collection of weapons in America.
The cannons of an organized state militia confronted two rebel armies, and thus Shays' Rebellion failed—largely due to a miscommunication with a third general, who had unilaterally postponed the attack until the following day, but word never reached the other two armies.
This key event led to the Federal Constitution Convention, in which the Federal Government was given much more power than the individual states. Shays' Rebellion led many of the upper classes, who feared a popular uprising, to vote for the new federal Constitution that supported a stronger central government.
In 1793, the National Arsenal contained brass ordnance, howitzers, traveling carriages, shot strapt, canisters filled, quilted grape, iron shot, shells, powder, musket ball, cylinders, caps, paper cartridges, fuzes filled, muskets, swords, various military stores, and implements. In 1795, the Springfield Armory produced the new nation's first musket.
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."
With the destruction of Harper's Ferry during the Civil War, the Springfield Armory became the only federal manufacturing point for small arms until the late 20th century.
In 1865, Master Armorer Erskine Allin introduced the "Allin Conversion", which incorporated the far more advanced design of breech-loading into the now-obsolete muzzleloaders, thereby extending their service life. In 1891 a new function was assigned to the Armory –– it became the army's main laboratory for the development and testing of new small arms.
One of the most distinctive elements of the Armory is the fence surrounding the site, which was started after the Civil War and completed in 1890. Unable to find funding for the purchase of a fence, Major James W. Ripley requested obsolete cannons from government storage, some from the Revolutionary War. He had the cannons sent to a local foundry to be melted down. The foundry kept some of the iron as payment, and the remainder was cast into 9-foot palings, formed as pikes and spearheads which were then sunk into a red sandstone base.
During the Spanish-American War, it was recognized that the Spanish Mauser Model of 1893, exhibited characteristics superior to the "trapdoor" Springfield and Krag-Jørgensen rifles carried by the United States troops. On August 15, 1900, Springfield Armory completed an experimental magazine rifle which they believed to be an improvement over the Krag. They fashioned a clip loading magazine rifle in which the cartridges were contained within the stock, preventing damage to an otherwise exposed magazine. It was approved for production in as the Model 1903. Mauser later sued for patent infringement and won royalties from Springfield.
By the time that the United States entered World War I, approximately 843,239 standard service Model 1903 rifles had been manufactured. However this was insufficient to arm U.S. troops for an undertaking of the magnitude of World War I. During the war Springfield Armory produced over 265,620 Model 1903 rifles. In addition, the War Department contracted for production of the M1917 Enfield Rifle to help aid American troops. These, along with the additional 47,251 rifles produced by the Rock Island Arsenal and the weapons already in service, were enough to supply the war effort.
In 1919, when John Garand was 31, he came to Springfield, where he worked to develop a semi-automatic rifle. Over the next five years many designs were submitted for the rifle, but none met the army's rigid specifications. In 1924, Garand offered a design that was approved for further testing. This was the famous M1, or "Garand rifle" as it came to be known after the name of its inventor. The army adopted the rifle in 1936, and production began the next year. Thus began what was to become the greatest production effort in the history of Springfield Armory. During the entire production history of the M1 rifle, Springfield Armory produced over 4.5 million of them.
The M1s accuracy and durability in battle earned it high praise. General Douglas MacArthur reported on the M1 to the Ordnance Department during heavy fighting on Bataan that: "Under combat conditions it operated with no mechanical defects and when used in foxholes did not develop stoppages from dust or dirt. It has been in almost constant action for as much as a week without cleaning or lubrication." Further testament to the M1s role in combat was given by another well respected military officer. General George S. Patton, Jr. reported to the Ordnance Department on January 26, 1945: "In my opinion, the M1 Rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised." In the face of overwhelming odds, the capability of the M1 rifle to deliver superior firepower would most often carry the day.
By the time the U.S. was involved in the Vietnam War, Springfield Armory developed not only rifles but machine guns for ground and air use, grenade launchers, and associated equipment. Many weapons were not manufactured at the Armory, but plans and specifications were drawn up for the use of private contractors who built them elsewhere.
In a controversial personal and political decision, in 1968—during the Vietnam War—U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced the shutting-down of the Springfield Armory. For over two centuries the bluff overlooking the Connecticut River had been the most important place for the invention and manufacture of U.S. Military firearms. The Springfield Armory had evolved from a facility where skilled craftsmen built, piece by piece, one musket at a time, into a center that pioneered mass production techniques and modern business practices, and then finally into an internationally renowned institute for weapons research and development. It had fulfilled all of General George Washington's and Henry Knox's hopes for it, and then some.
The Springfield Armory is now a museum run by the National Park Service and called the Springfield Armory National Park & National Historic Site. As of 2011, the 35-acres behind the Springfield Armory (and several of its former buildings) house Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). STCC is the only "technical" community college in Massachusetts, and aims to continue the legacy of technological innovation at the Springfield Armory site. 
The Main Arsenal Building and the Commandants House were extensively renovated by Eastern General Contractors of Springfield, MA between 1987 and 1991.
As of 2011, the Springfield Armory's current National Park superintendent Quijano-West says that the Springfield Armory will feature longer summer hours and guided tours on the weekends. All designed, he says, to help build interest in the historical site he calls a "gem" of American history. "Springfield Armory is a significant, inspirational and unique treasure," he says, "it's a shrine of our country. And a story we'd like to share with even more visitors."
In 1974, the Springfield Armory name was licensed to Robert Reese, to form Springfield Armory, Inc., a company that manufacture semi-automatic versions of the M14 rifle and M1911 pistol. The company is not located in or near Springfield, Massachusetts, much to the chagrin of Springfield Armory purists, and has no association with the authentic Springfield Armory. This private company using the "Springfield Armory" name is based out of Geneseo, Illinois.