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Good to Know: The History of Springfield Armory

Whether you’re a firearms enthusiast, or just getting introduced to the world of guns, you’ve most likely heard of Springfield Armory, Inc. in Geneseo, Illinois. But do you know the history and iconic heritage of the name Springfield Armory? I found interesting information and resources about Springfield Armory that I think you will enjoy.


Gear Up is sponsored by Springfield Armory, Inc.

History of Springfield Armory

The year 1777 included these highlights:

  • The United States was 1-year-old
  • The US Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes flag 
  • First ice cream advertisement
  • First national day of thanksgiving, commemorating the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga. 
  • The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union are adopted by the Continental Congress in Independence Hall

Also, in that same year, under the authority of Gen. George Washington,  commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, an arsenal was established in Springfield, Massachusetts, on a hill above the Connecticut River. The town’s location on the banks of the river and intersections of major highways offered access to raw materials, skilled manpower and adequate waterpower. 

Fire at Springfield Armory
This 1824 print shows the destruction of the Springfield Armory stocking shops caused by sparks from forges where iron is shaped and welded.

The arsenal stored and repaired muskets, cannons and other weapons. It also produced paper cartridges and gun carriages. 

In 1787, the arsenal became the center of Shay’s Rebellion. During this event, poor farmers tried to seize the arms at Springfield. Their lands were being taken for debt and the farmers wanted to use the firearms to force the closure of the courts. Although they failed at their attempt, many wealthier people now supported the new federal Constitution, which supported a stronger central government. 

1794 musket NRA musum
Found in the NRA Museum

In 1794, the federal government decided to manufacture its own muskets so the nation would no longer depend on foreign arms. Pres. Washington chose Springfield as the site of the first federal armory (another was created at Harpers Ferry, Virginia). Soon, Springfield Armory began manufacturing the Springfield Flintlock Infantry Musket, the first official musket of the United States and patterned after the French Model 1763 Charleville musket. That first year, Springfield Armory manufactured 245 muskets. Thoughout the years, approximately 80,000 muskets were used by the US Army, Navy and Marines until production discontinued in 1814. 

Springfield armory forging room
Springfield Armory forging room.

Here are some of the inventions from Springfield Armory:

  • A lathe developed by Thomas Blanchard in 1819 that turned out identical gun stocks.
  • In the 1840s, flintlock gave way to a percussion ignition system. 
  • Master Armorer Erskine Allin introduced the “Allin Conversion.” This incorporated an advanced design of breech-loading into muzzleloaders (which were now obsolete), extending their service life. 
  • In 1873, the “Trapdoor” Springfield Rifle was developed. 
  • The World War l Model 1903.
  • The M-1 Garand was produced for 2 years. 
  • The final small arm developed at the Springfield Armory was the M-14.
Springfield Armory 1850 NPS
This illustration from 1850 shows the growth of Springfield Armory since its inception in 1794. The building in the foreground is the Main Arsenal building that acts as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site visitor center. (NPS photo)

The 1890s brought a change to the armory. It now functioned as the Army’s main laboratory for the development and testing of new small arms. During the Vietnam War, besides rifles, Springfield Armory also developed machine guns and grenade launchers. 

Springfield Armory NPS
(NPS photo)

Springfield Armory National Historic Site

Sadly, in 1968, the Defense Department closed Springfield Armory. The Springfield Armory National Historic Site is part of the National Park Services. Yes, you can visit the 55 acres and several buildings of the original armory complex.

Springfield Armory Nation Historic Site NPS
Springfield Armory National Historic Site is located on what is today the Springfield Technical Community College campus in the Main Arsenal building originally constructed in 1850. The flag located on the top of our five-story tower can be seen far and wide throughout the town of Springfield. (NPS photo)

Springfield Armory National Historic Site search here.

Springfield Armory Museum Collections here.

Learn more about the Model 1795 Musket from the NRA Museum.

Springfield Armory inc 1974

Springfield Armory, Inc.

In 1974, the Reese family rescued both the name “Springfield Armory” and the philosophy that drove it for centuries. Springfield Armory, Inc., located in Geneseo, Illinois, now carries on the legacy. 

  • About Michelle Cerino

    Michelle Cerino, aka Princess Gunslinger, entered the firearms industry in 2011 when Cerino Training Group was established. She immediately began competing in both 3-Gun and NRA Action Pistol, becoming a sponsored shooter. Michelle is currently a columnist and Managing Editor of Women’s Outdoor News, as well as Event-Staff for CZ-USA Field Sports. She also manages social media for Vera Koo and GTM Original. Michelle encourages others to step out of the comforts of home and explore.


The Conversation

  • Cathy says: January 30, 2019 at 4:12 am

    Great article, the Pionneer Valley and the Connecticut River corridor have been home to some of the countries greatest manufacturers of firearms. I would be curious about how the Armory tied into the development of the industry locally and nationwide.

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