Founded by George Washington in 1794, the Springfield Armory manufactured weapons for every American conflict from the War of 1812 to Vietnam. It was closed by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1968 when the government moved to purchasing weapons exclusively from private contractors.
The armory remains the largest collection of military firearms in the United States. In its nearly two centuries as an arsenal, the site has been everything from a target in Daniel Shay’s rebellion to one of the first industrial employers of women (as early as World War I).
Military history was changed forever when John Garand developed the M1 semi-automatic rifle at the Springfield Armory in 1937. The M1 replaced standard-issue bolt-action rifles and was described by General George S. Patton as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Eccentric inventor Garand, who once flooded the parlor of his Springfield home to use as an ice rink, took few interviews about his innovation saying “My gun speaks loud enough for both of us.”
Now maintained by the National Park Service, the museum’s collection has extensive examples of the development of long-guns, handguns, and machine guns, as well as some bladed weapons. The firearm is used as a lens to explore the evolution of American manufacturing in general, from handcraftsmanship to water and steam power to the electrical era.
The collection features a number of oddities, including a case displaying the bizarre impacts that lightning strikes, enemy fire, or a particularly determined salt-craving porcupine can have on a long-gun. The museum’s showpiece is the “Organ of Muskets” crafted out of nearly 1,100 long-guns, which inspired a lyric poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Know Before You Go
The museum is on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College. Visiting is free of charge. Free parking is readily available outside the Armory.