A few years back I took on some work in the Boston area. And, as I usually do, I took the opportunity to see everything I could, including such landmarks as the Boston Common, the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, and Sam Adams’ grave. I also spent some enjoyable Saturday afternoons hoisting Blue Point Ales in Durty Nellie’s. That fine establishment advertises itself as the North End’s best dive bar, and I see no evidence to the contrary.
In fact, Boston quickly became my favorite major city, after Denver.
I saw stuff outside of Boston as well. Now, Taxachusetts isn’t a state known for the shooting sports, but over in Springfield (otherwise an unremarkable town) they do have a major landmark in American shooting history: The Springfield Armory.
No, not that Springfield Armory. The original Springfield Armory, now the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and Museum. This was America’s original Arsenal of the Republic (I know FDR described an Arsenal of Democracy, but the United States is a Republic, dammit, not a democracy; Roosevelt should have known better.)
…and The Armory!
Established in 1777, the Armory produced such items as gun carriages and cartridges until 1795, when they started building muskets. This began a long history of producing small arms for the U.S. military for almost two hundred years. In their long history, the Armory produced everything from flintlock muskets to the M60 machine gun. That run included such landmarks in gun history as the 1903 Springfield and M1 Garand rifles, but the Armory also pioneered mass-production manufacturing techniques, including use of the Blanchard Lathe to mass-produce interchangeable gun stocks.
It’s a neat place for the gun lover to visit, but enough about the history; you can get that anywhere. Instead, I’ll describe some highlights of my own visit.
I’ve fired weapons that came from the Armory. I’ve owned weapons that came from the Armory; two 1903 Springfield rifles in various states of sporterization, but the actions came from the Springfield Armory. In my time in Uncle Sam’s colors I handled M60 machine guns (the infamous Pig) and M2 .50 calibers that almost certainly were built in Springfield. So, my visit to the Museum was even more fascinating because of that connection.
Front-stuffers are fun, and the Springfield Armory made a lot of them, starting with the Model 1795 flintlock smoothbore musket to the Civil War-era percussion rifle-muskets. But while the Springfield 1862 Rifle-Musket may have been the key weapon that won the Civil War, the museum shows much more than just the products of the once and former Armory; the racks are full on one-offs, prototypes, weapons of note made in other locations, and even weapons fielded by other nations, but allies and foes. In the museum you can see development models and prototypes from the first Allin conversions that became the trapdoor Springfield rifles, to the development models of the famous M1 Garand, all the actual guns, on display.
It’s a fascinating visit for the gun aficionado.
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This history of the M1 rifle, the famous Garand, described by George Patton as “the finest implement of battle ever designed” is represented in detail. Every working model, every prototype is there. The early ones are (not surprisingly) crude, being built just to test concepts. What’s really interesting is how you can watch refinement after refinement until, at last, the familiar shape of the M1 takes place. I’ve long desired an M1 for my own gun rack, for no particular reason other than its place in history; it’s really interesting to see how this groundbreaking rifle was developed.
Also documented in the museum is the search for a lightweight military rifle, which search culminated in the M16 platform. This project originated with variations on the M14, also a product of the Springfield Armory and the United States’ last MBR (Main Battle Rifle.) While the M16 was not developed or built at the Armory, the rifles that it replaced were, and the Armory was involved in the testing of the lightweight carbine. The wisdom of giving up having an MBR ready for issue was, apparently, not discussed.
Another neat not-produced-at Springfield display presents the small arms of both World Wars, not only those of the United States but also our allies and enemies. Such items as the Mauser, SMLE, Mosin-Nagant, the various submachine guns and sidearms, all are present. It’s an interesting look at the weapons used in the two great wars of the last century.
Pictures really are worth a thousand words. I could describe the various displays in the Museum all day, but I’m sure you’d all rather see for yourselves. Since you can’t, unless you go to Springfield, you’ll have to settle for the photos with which I have liberally sprinkled this article. Enjoy!