When the flames of the revolutionary war were in full blaze, the new country realized that it needed an armory to build and store its weapons of war. No less of a person than General Washington established the first US armory at Springfield Massachusetts. That the new one draws its lineage from this old Springfield Armory.
The year after the Declaration of Independence, General Washington and his chief of artillery Henry Knox scouted out a militarily defensible position that was still centrally located to his army. The purpose of this site would be a secure storage and manufacturing facility in which workers could make limbers for the Continental Army's artillery as well as package paper/power/bullets into cartridges for the Army's muskets. It was at the high bluff overlooking the Connecticut River near the village of Springfield that Washington and Knox would pick. By 1778, buildings stood on the site and workers were producing ammunition and equipment. If not for the bullets made here, we might all still have the Queen's picture on our folding money.
Arming the Nation
By 1794, the Springfield Armory was, besides a storage place for arms and producer of ammunition, making the first all-US made firearms for the Army. Over the next seventy years a long line of muskets, the M1795, M1816, M1822, and M1861, more than three million overall, were produced at the Springfield Armory. The muzzleloaders carried by the US Army in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War, were in most cases made at SA.
The arsenal was so famous that no less of a poet than the great Henry W. Longfellow's scribed a verse or three about the place in his appropriately named work, "The Arsenal at Springfield." In it he describes the organ of arms at Springfield. The 'organ' is a stand of 645 Model 1861 .58 caliber muskets that are in elegant (and secure) storage at the arsenal.
In the old days, thousands of these muskets were kept in rows of these organs to be issued in time of war. In fact, in 1860 it was estimated that nearly a million firearms were housed there.
After the musket era, Springfield made the Model 1873 Trapdoor rifles then the Springfield Model 1892-99 Krag-Jorgensen rifle, which the US carried during the Indian Wars and Spanish-American Wars respectively.
In 1900, the Armory began work on a prototype bolt-action rifle based on a Mauser design. This new rifle became the famous Springfield M1903 rifle, which was carried during World War 1 by the Doughboys who went 'over there.' In the 1930s, the Armory was home to one Mr. John Garand who was working on a revolutionary new semi-automatic battle rifle. This gun, adopted in 1937 as the M1 Rifle, was the rifle that won the Second World War as well as helped push the Chinese back in Korea.
In 1956 the Armory's next rifle, the M14 replaced the old warhorse that was the Garand. Soon this select-fire rifle was equipping US soldiers and Marines in a place called Vietnam. It still sees limited service in Afghanistan, giving your average infantry platoon a little extra reach.
End of an era
By 1968, the military had contracted out firearms production. The M14 was out of production, as was the M1. Colt was making the new M16. Saco Defense was producing the M60 machinegun. The military still had thousands of WWII-era M1911 pistols and M3 Grease guns but when it needed new handguns or subguns they just placed contracts with Smith and Wesson down the road from the Armory. With this fact of life, the government no longer needed an armory to produce new guns. Likewise, it did not need another arsenal, as each base maintained its own supply of weapons and surplus weapons were held at depots across the country.
Springfield Armory closed that year and ceased all operations. Today it is a protected National Historic Place and National Historic Site, and is managed and operated by the National Park Service. As such, it contains possibly the largest collection of firearms anywhere in the country. Their huge collection is all photographed and searchable online if you cannot make it by there.
Since 1974, Springfield Armory USA, Inc., the company we know and love today, has used the rights to the name of the old Springfield Armory. Thus continues the legacy.