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Preview – Visit – Springfield Armory National Historic Site

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Established by George Washington, This Tribute to the American Industrial Era Has an Incredible Collection of Machinery and Weapons

Springfield Armory. What image do these two words conjure in your mind? For some, it’s synonymous with the polymer-framed, striker-fired handguns imported from Croatia. Others might equate the name with 1911-style pistols. Many might recall the line of accurate semi-automatic rifles that sprang from the M14. That’s the modern Springfield Armory, Inc., a commercial enterprise based in Illinois and founded in 1974.

The original Springfield Armory was established in Springfield, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War to store armaments. In 1794, President Washington paved the way for small-arms manufacturing in addition to the storage of weapons. An arsenal had become an armory, and a legend was born.

There’s now a museum on the site where the armory once produced firearms, and we took a visit one sunny Friday to step back in time. Richard Colton, the resident historian, was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to walk us through the exhibits. His enthusiasm for the museum’s exhibits and extensive knowledge made the visit come alive. We were permitted a quick look upstairs at the “super-secret” items, in this case a “rapid-fire” .54-caliber weapon developed for suppressive fire at the time of the Civil War. This particular model was manufactured by Billinghurst-Requa and has a serial number of 1. It’s slated for display at the museum in the future, but you’re seeing it here first!

The museum is divided into two sections — “Industry” and “Weapons.” The industry side focuses on the processes and people involved in the design, creation, and production of firearms. It covers the evolution of firearms production, as the processes changed from hand-crafting each firearm to the use of machines powered by water, steam, and electricity. Machinery used to create firearms is featured prominently, from stock-making machines to rifling machines to lathes and other pertinent devices. Design and production from various periods are given as examples, with wooden mockups of percussion actions and M1 receivers with machining tolerances sketched in grease pencil getting equal attention.

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