- Robert E. Petersen Collection
- Ancient Firearms - 1350 to 1700
- Road to American Liberty - 1700 to 1780
- A Prospering New Republic - 1780 to 1860
- A Nation Asunder - 1861 to 1865
- The American West - 1850 to 1900
- Innovation, Oddities and Competition
- Theodore Roosevelt and Elegant Arms - 1880s to 1920s
- World War I and Firearms Innovation
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U.S. Springfield Model 1903 Bolt Action Rifle
When the British army lost most of its arms on the beach at Dunkirk, John W. Hession was one of many Americans who responded by loaning a rifle for British use. As this gun was Hession's prized competition piece, he placed specially engraved plates on the stock to ensure its return. SN 264631
The town of Springfield, Massachusetts, located on the banks of the Connecticut River, was settled in 1636 by emigrants from Roxbury. The town was nearly destroyed during King Philip's War in 1675, but it was quickly rebuilt. As early as 1776, Continental Army colonel and future Secretary of War Henry Knox recommended the establishment of public laboratories, magazines, arsenals and foundries in secure locations for the production and repair of arms, ammunition, and other ordnance stores.
Both George Washington and the Continental Congress concurred with this recommendation, under which an ordnance depot was established at Springfield in 1777. The town's access to raw materials, sources of water power, and transportation, as well as its inland location which provided security against seaborne attack, made Springfield an ideal location. Over the following year, buildings were rented or erected for use as barracks and storehouses. In addition to ordnance stores, the depot at Springfield also handled other aspects of army supply, including equipment, uniforms, tents, food, and fuel. The end of the War for Independence also brought a decline in military activities at Springfield.
In 1794, an Act of Congress directed that national armories be established for the fabrication of small arms. President Washington selected Springfield and Harpers Ferry, which was then located in Virginia, as the sites for these facilities. In addition to the advantages that contributed to the presence of a Revolutionary War depot in the town, many skilled armory workers were still living nearby. The government acquired nearly 300 acres and constructed a dam to furnish power to the armory complex, as well as shops, offices, and storehouses.
The first permanent structure to be constructed on the site was a brick powder magazine, which was torn down in 1842. Additional buildings have been constructed as necessary over the years since. Production of arms at Springfield began in 1795, with 245 muskets manufactured during that year, and approximately 80,000 were turned out before production was discontinued in 1814. The Model 1795 muskets were the first standardized U.S. martial arms to be produced and were patterned after the French Model 1763 Charleville musket. Harpers Ferry Armory also produced a Model 1795 musket, but these were distinctly different from those manufactured at Springfield. The first known Springfield Armory-marked specimens were manufactured in 1799, and feature dated lockplates which bear an eagle stamp and the word "Springfield."
The Model 1816 was first standardized U.S. martial arm to be manufactured at both Springfield and Harpers Ferry. These arms enjoyed the longest production run in U.S. history, lasting until 1844, with nearly 700,000 muskets turned out during this period. Both armories also produced the Model 1842 percussion musket and Model 1855 percussion rifle-musket. These arms are significant in that the Model 1842 was the last U.S. regulation .69 caliber smoothbore, as well as the first to be made at both armories with completely interchangeable parts, while the Model 1855 rifle-musket was the first rifle-musket to be produced by the United States, the first to be produced in the new regulation .58 caliber, and the last arm to be produced at both government armories.
In addition to commonly produced arms, each armory was the sole producer of certain other designs, such as the Model 1855 percussion pistol-carbine and various musketoons and cadet muskets that were produced solely at Springfield, or the Model 1803 flintlock rifle, and the Model 1841 percussion, or "Mississippi" rifles, both of which were produced only at Harpers Ferry. Model 1861 and 1863 rifle-muskets, which were based on a modification of the earlier Model 1855, were produced in great quantities throughout the Civil War. These were the last muzzle loading, paper cartridge percussion arms to be produced by the U.S. Erskine S. Allin, Springfield's Master Armorer, designed a method for converting many of these into metallic cartridge breech loaders. This conversion consisted of a modification to the breech to permit the installation of a "trap door" breechblock with a self-contained firing pin.
The famous .45-70 government caliber "trap door" Springfield rifles and carbines of the Plains Indian Wars were based on Allin's work, and these accounted for much of the Armory's production during the 1870s and 1880s. Springfield Armory was also involved in improving the state of the art in military rifle design, and toward this end, limited-production long arms including the Ward-Burton, Lee Vertical Action, Hotchkiss, and Chaffee-Reese rifles were manufactured there. These efforts culminated in the 1890s with the Army's adoption of the smokeless powder Krag-Jorgensen bolt-action repeating rifle as its standard longarm. These rifles, as well as carbine versions, were manufactured at the Armory through the turn of the century.
The Spanish-American War proved the superiority of the German-designed Mauser, and the .30-'06 caliber U.S. Model 1903 bolt-action rifle, which was built at Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal under a license from Mauser, replaced the Krag-Jorgensen as the Army's new standard rifle. Over one million were manufactured before production was discontinued in 1941, and many of these, as well as rebuilt or contract model Ô03s, saw action in both World Wars.
Prior to the First World War, Springfield also manufactured the M1911 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol under license from Colt, and throughout this period, Armory workers continued to experiment with, produce, test, and maintain various other ordnance materiel including rifles, pistols, machine guns, and related equipment. During the interwar years, John Garand, a Canadian-born design engineer and Springfield Armory employee, worked on a design for a new gas-operated semi-automatic rifle.
After overcoming several problems, both with his designs and with Army brass, the U.S. Rifle .30 caliber M1 was adopted by the Army in 1936. The Marine Corps followed suit, and during the Second World War, over three and one-half million M1s were produced at Springfield. An additional 500,000 were manufactured by Winchester Repeating Arms Co. This rifle, which General George S. Patton called, "the greatest battle implement ever devised," gave American troops a significant edge over their German and Japanese enemies, most of whom were still equipped with bolt-action arms. After the war, Springfield ceased manufacture of the M1 and turned its efforts to the overhaul and long-term storage of these rifles.
The outbreak of war in Korea in 1950 caused a resumption in production at the Armory, as well as by International Harvester and Harrington & Richardson. The return of peace brought a second and final discontinuation of M1 production. Springfield Armory's continuing efforts at advancing military rifle designs yielded a series of improvements to the M1, culminating in production of the 7.62mm NATO caliber selective-fire M14 rifle, which replaced the Garand in the Army's inventory.
In 1968, the Ordnance Department ceased operations at Springfield Armory. The Armory grounds, buildings, and museum, with its extensive arms and accouterments collection, have become Springfield Armory National Historic Site and are now maintained by the National Park Service.