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Springfield Armory

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Springfield Armory
Springfield Armory
Country of Origin

United States


Springfield, Massachusettes (US)

Year of Founding


Year of Closure




Owner(s)/Parent Company

Springfield Armory National Historic Site (National Park Service)

Key People

George Washington
Henry Knox

Weapon Types

Service Rifles

Famous Firearms

Springfield Model 1861
M1903 Springfield
.45-70 Government

Area(s) served

United States

This article is about the original Springfield Armory. For the Modern day company see: Springfield Armory Inc.

The Springfield Armory was the first government backed armory in the United States. Founded in the small town (as it was) of Springfield, Massachusettes in 1777, the Springfield Armory churned out thousands of firearms every year, from the 1890s through until 1968. Springfield produced some of the world's most famous firearms, including the Springfield Model 1861 (the rifle that effectively defined the American Civil War) and the pioneering Model 1842, the first military grade firearm to have fully interchangable parts.


The Springfield Armory had a very important role in the development of America. From the very concept of its creation to the production of some of the world's best known firearms, the Springfield Armory was one of the most vital operations that helped to build the modern day United States.


The plain just above Springfield is perhaps one of the most proper spots on every account

–General Henry Knox, Artillery Chief of the Continental Army

The Springfield Armory was first concieved at the height of the American Revolutionary Wars in 1777. George Washington, on the advice of his artillery chief Gen. Henry Knox, scouted and approved the construction of the Armory in the small town of Springfield (at the time Springfield's population was a few hundred at the most).

George Washington

George Washington, Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

The town of Springfield was outlined for the Armory because of several geographical features which would be advantageous for the site. Firstly it was located at the intersection of three major rivers, including the vital Conneticut River, whose first waterfall (named Enfield Falls) was too steep for ships to navigate, effectively preventing the Armory from naval attack. Secondly, Springfield had relatively good roads to New York City, Montreal, Boston and Albany (New York), allowing for quick distribution of its products.

The Armory site in particular, too, had its own advantages. The site sat on the top of a small, citadel like, rise near the banks of one of the widest parts of the Conneticut River. Washington and Knox both agreed to this location, with the Armory founded on that spot. 

Shays' Rebellion (1787)Edit

The Armory first began as an arsenal for weaponry during the concluding stages of the Revolution. Various firearms were stored here, including the British made Brown Bess and French Charleville muskets (both captured and sold to the rebels). The Armory was also instructed to manufacture cartridges and gun carriages for the growing number of Field Artillery units in the fledgling nation's hands.

Springfield Armory 2

One of the Armory's buildings targeted by rebels during Shays' Rebellion.

However, 10 years after the Armory's founding, Daniel Shays, a soldier whom fought in the Revolution, sought to take over the Armory in order to defeat the government of Massachusets. His forces felt aggrieved at the Massachusets government's actions during and in the years following the Revolution, including large land seizures and reduction of hard currency.

The rebels attacked the site on the 25th of January 1887, intending to use the stores of arms and ammunition to sieze control of Massachusets. However the state Militia, whom were stationed at the Armory, defended the site effectively, causing the rebels to withdraw. The Rebellion itself (which was crushed later that year) was one of the major contributing factors in the United States Constitution, specifically concerning the powers of the Federal government held over individual states. 

Early Production (Muskets)Edit

Springfield Model 1795 Musket

The Model 1795 Musket produced by the Springfield Armory from 1795 until 1812.

In 1892 George Washington (now the first President of the United States) was instructed, by Congress, to organise two armories capable of producing their own firearms. Springfield was the first of these to be created (following an expansion to incorporate more room for tools and machines) and immediately began production of the Model 1795 Musket (which was largely based on the Charleville Musket of French origin). The other site, the Harpers Ferry US Armory, also began producing this design, and the two armories began paving the development of America as a nation capable of defending itself.
Springfield Model 1812 Musket

The Springfield Armory's Model 1812 Musket.

The Springfield Armory would continue to produce the Model 1795 until they designed the Model 1812, an improved version of the Model 1795. This was followed by the Model 1816, Model 1822 and Model 1835 all of which had minor design improvements which made them more effective than their predecessors. The age of innovation at Springfield was not limited to their firearms, however. Thomas Blanchard, an engineer whom worked at Springfield for 5 years, designed a lathe which allowed identical stocks to be mass produced, an innovation which greatly improve the Armory's production figures.

Springfield Model 1842 Musket

The Model 1842 Musket, a design which demonstrated Springfield's development during the Industrial Revolution.

The age of the musket continued into the 1840s, a time when the Industrial Revolution swept across the Atlantic towards America. Springfield benefitted hugely from the Industrial Revolution, expanding greatly to include more machines and workers. This boom for Springfield was highlighted in the Model 1842 Musket, which was the second (John Hall Model 1819) U.S. firearm to have fully interchangable parts, meaning any part from one Model 1842 could be used on another.

American Civil WarEdit

Springfield Model 1861 Musket

The Springfield Model 1861, possibly the most well known of Springfield's designs.

The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 saw Springfield produce one of America's most well known rifles, the Springfield Model 1861. Over 1,000,000 were produced during the conflict, while the Model 1863 was quick to enter the military market. The Civil War also saw Springfield, for a time, become the US Government's only armory (until the founding of the Rock Island Arsenal) following the destruction of Harpers Ferry

However Springfield's line of muskets (which could be traced back as far as 1717 with the Charleville Musket serving as the basis of the original design) was to end with the conclusion of the Civil War, as the first of the 'Trapdoor' Springfields entered production in 1865. The line of rifles designed by Erskine S. Allin (technically named hinged breechblocks) were unusual but served the American forces well until the turn of the 20th century. The last of the Allin rifles left production in 1892, replaced by the bolt action Krag Jorgensen in the same year.

20th CenturyEdit

M1903 Springfield

The Springfield M1903, Springfield's first magazine rifle.

Springfield, following the growing trend of magazine loading rifles in Europe, produced their first magazine rifle in 1903, the Springfield M1903. The M1903 was adopted by the US almost immediately, where it stayed as one of the main arms of the frontline troops during the First and Second World Wars. The M1903 was joined in service in the 1930's by the now infamous M1 Garand (designed by John Garand during his time at Springfield). 

The success of the M1 Garand cemented Springfield's place as America's top armory during the early to mid 20th century, with the M14 rifle (and the M21 sniper rifle developed from it) continuing that trend. This production was supplemented by machine gun, grenade lauchers and other equipment designed and produced at the Armory during Vietnam War.

Closure and LegacyEdit

Springfield Armory (Water Shops Armory)

An painting of the Water Shops Armory (prior to the division of the Springfield Armory).

Yet the Springfield Armory closed in 1968, despite the ongoing conflicts that the United States was embroidled in. In truth Springfield could no longer financially compete with the privately owned companies (ie Colt or Smith & Wesson) and so the US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced the closure of the site in that year. The outer areas of the site were sold off, while the "water shops" (as they were known) were placed on the National Register of Historic Places (named as the Water Shops Armory).

The main site, including 35 acres behind the main buildings, were preserved and given to the state. The site is now named the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and is run by the National Park Service. The major buildings on the site were restored on the late 1980s, while the Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) continues to accept students and engineers to this day. The Springfield Armory Museum, located within the main building, is home to the Benton Small Arms Collection, one of the largest collections of weaponry in the world.


As mentioned above the Springfield Armory served the United States as their first government backed armory, manufacturing the firearms that the fledgling nation needed to expand and develop. Before the closure of the Armory (as a working entity) the site had seen 173 years of production of various types of weapons, from their first flintlock musket, to the M21 Sniper rifle, the Springfield Armory developed some of the worlds most important firearms.


The list below includes all of Springfield's musket designs, all of which can be traced back to the Charleville Musket originally designed, in France, in 1717.

  • Model 1795 - The first Springfield product, largely based on the Charleville and produced at both Springfield and Harpers Ferry. The first year of production saw 245 Model 1795s roll off the production line
  • Model 1812 - First of the improved line of muskets based on the Model 1795
  • Model 1816
  • Model 1822/35
  • Model 1842 - The first Springfield design to use a percussion lock mechanism as the standard lock mechanism. The Model 1842 was also the first military firearm to have fully interchangable parts.
    Springfield Model 1855 Musket

    The Model 1855 Musket, note the distinctive 'hump' produced by the Maynard Tape Primer.

  • Model 1855 - The first Springfield to have a rifled barrel, also served as an experiment for the Maynard Tape Primer (intended to speed loading times by feeding the primer directly into the breech).
  • Model 1861 - The primary firearm of the American Civil War, with over 1,000,000 used during the conflict.
  • Model 1863 - The last of the Springfield muskets (that can still be considered muskets).

The last few models in thier musket run were classed at the time as muskets, however there is some debate over whether they are truely rifles or muskets.


Springfield soon recognised that the era of the musket was drawing to a close in the mid 1800s. As such the Armory began producing their line of rifled muskets in 1855, before replacing them 10 years late with the 'Trapdoor' Springfields.

  • Joslyn Rifle - The first breechloading rifle to be mass produced by the Armory in 1861. Designed out-of-house by Benjamin Franklin Joslyn (whom also set up the Joslyn Firearm Company).
  • Springfield Model 1865

    The 'First Allin' or Springfield Model 1865 breechloading rifle.

    Model 1865 - The first of the Erskine S. Allin designed 'Trapdoor' Springfield Rifles. Other than the breechloading mechanism the design was unchanged from the Model 1863.
  • Model 1866
  • Model 1868
  • Model 1870 Remington-Navy - A hybrid of the Springfield Model 1868 with the Remington falling-block action. Sold to the US Navy rather than the army.
    • Model 1871 - Featured several improvements from the Model 1870.
  • Model 1873
  • Model 1875
    Springfield Model 1875

    The Springfield Model 1875, commonly named the "Officer's Model" due to its price.

  • Model 1884
  • Model 1886 - The last of the 'Trapdoor' Springfields to be produced. Even then only 1,000 were actually produced by the Armory before they turned their attention to developing a new line of designs.
  • Model 1892 - Effectively produced underlicense by Springfield as a near direct copy of the Norwegian Krag Jorgensen, originally design in the 1840s.

The turn of the 20th century saw Springfield turn their attention to producing rifles capable of using magazines. These designs continued the tradition of Springfield designs forming the basis of the United States forces equipment.

  • M1903 - Springfield's first magazine loading rifle and a significant step in the evolution of the Armory. Served the US on the front line from 1903 until the 1960s.
  • M1garand

    The M1 Garand, designed and produced by the Armory from 1919 until 1936.

    M1 Garand - Designed by John Garand between 1919 to 1923. One of Springfield's most respected firearms. 
  • M14 - Adopted by the US in 1959 and remains in production (by the Springfield Armory's name sake, Springfield Armory Inc.) to this day. 
  • M21 - A sniper rifle based on the M14, also still in use since its adoption.

One thing of note is that Springfield, right up until the production of the M1903, listed all of thier designs in their catalogues as muskets, even the Model 1892 which, technically, was the complete reverse of the traditional definition of a musket.


The Springfield Armory also developed and produced their own ammunition for their rifles. Springfield originally used musket balls for their designs although the evolution of the bullet and later metallic cartridges changed this as the decades rolled by.

  • Musket ball - Produced in various calibres. Often fired from a seperate load of blackpowder, which was forced down the barrel with a ramrod. This powder was often poured down the barrel using a powder horn.
  • Minie Ball - The Minie Ball was originally developed in France in the 1840s. Designed to work directly with rifling by deforming in a specific manner to engage and twist. Held in a paper cartridge which also held the powder.
    Minie ball

    Various examples of the Minie Ball.

  • Percussion Caps - The percussion cap (essentially an impact sensitive explosive that formed the primer) was invented in the 1800s and allowed the development of percussion lock firearms (eg the Model 1861).
    • Maynard Tape Primer - Developed prior to the Model 1855 and was intended to improve loading times. The design caused more problems than it solved, however, hence meaning Springfield returned to the conventional percussion cap for the Model 1861.
  • .50-70 Government - Springfield's first metallic cartridge, which held a .50in calibre bullet. Developed for the Model 1866 or 'Second Allin'
  • .45-70 Government - A smaller, but more effective, cartridge developed by Springfield and used for thier rifles from 1873 onwards. Remains in production to this day by various companies including Hornady.
  • .30-40 Krag - Developed for the Model 1892 (the Krag-Jorgensen copy).
  • .30-06 Springfield

Springfield Armory Inc.Edit

Springfield Armory

The Springfield Armory Inc. logo.

The name Springfield Armory was, and remains, a name of cultural significance to many in America. Virtually everyone whose family can be traced back to the 1800s in America had a member of their family that wielded a Springfield during the American Civil War. Furthermore the Armory's link to the first President of the United States, George Washington and its role in the American Revolution helped build that cultural importance. 

Therefore in 1974 Elmer C. Ballance, owner of LH Manufacturing at the time, trademarked the name Springfield Armory, forming the modern day Springfield Armory Inc. The first product of the new operation was a civilian version of the M14 (named the M1A), although it was not produced using the original Springfield Armory's facilities. Ballance's operation was (and currently is) based in Geneseo, Illinois.

In truth the two groups, the Springfield Armory and Springfield Armory Inc. share little except the name. 


  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Firearms - Ian V. Hogg (ISBN: 0906286417)

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