Massachusetts is a bit of a dichotomy. In a region rich in firearms history, the state has some of the most restrictive gun laws.
It was in Massachusetts where the shot “heard ‘round the world” was fired: American colonials who refused to be disarmed by British troops. How ironic then, that where the free men of that state made a stand and declared they would not be disarmed, is the same location where citizens are not allowed to own scary looking rifles or even standard capacity magazines.
But, it is this region of the United States where many of the country’s guns have been manufactured during the past 230+ years. The nation’s first, last and most important national armory was located in Springfield. It is the Springfield Armory that has helped to keep the USA free for all of these years.
The Armory is now a National Historic Site with a museum that warms the hearts of gun enthusiasts and makes hippies cry.
A Brief History…
General George Washington originally authorized the Springfield Armory as an arsenal, or depot, during the Revolutionary War. Later the National Arsenal was transformed to the Armory for the production of muskets in 1795.
As was the standard for the time, muskets were all handmade and therefore unique. Parts would not interchange between rifles. The Springfield Armory was instrumental in developing techniques to improve the efficiency of firearm production and creating guns with interchangeable parts. Long before Ford made the Model T, the Springfield Armory was already developing the art of assembly line production.
Famous guns like the 1903 Springfield, Krag, Garand and M14 all began development and production at the Springfield Armory. Many more obscure and experimental designs were designed, tested and evaluated for military use.
The Armory was closed during the Vietnam War in 1968 as all of the US military’s firearms development and manufacturing was outsourced. A decade later the Armory was opened as a national historic site and museum in 1978.
According to the National Park Service, the Springfield Armory museum maintains the largest collection of historic US firearms in the world. Many of those firearms are on display in the museum, while many more are preserved in storage.
The Armory didn’t just provide weapons for various war efforts. The Armory was actually the site of a battle during Shay’s Rebellion. In January of 1787, rebels attempted to seize the Armory, still the National Arsenal at the time. The rebels were defeated, and the weapons of the arsenal were not captured.
Unusual and Historic Firearms
The museum houses a large number of historic US firearms, including many experimental designs.
Probably the most famous rifle ever produced by the Armory was the M1 Garand. More than 4.5 million M1 Garand rifles were produced at the Springfield Armory. Many of the guns, including a dizzying array of experimental versions, are on display at the museum.
In the M1 exhibit, the museum has some of the bare receivers produced by John Garand during the rifle’s development. They also have experimental pre-M1 Garand rifles using detachable magazines and chambered in .276 caliber. Also on display was a carbine version of the M1 Garand, featuring a crude pistol grip and a naked-wire stock.
Some of the unusual guns on display at the museum include a twin-barrel rifle made by Winchester in the 1950’s, a brass-alloy 1911 pistol and a stamped sheet metal 1911 handgun.
The museum also has on display a commemorative M14 given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the rifle in the possession of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis when he was captured fleeing Richmond.
Guns on display are not limited to just American inventions either. The Armory has a number of foreign firearms showcased including the German StG 44, arguably the world’s first modern assault rifle. Examples of the MP 44, Mosin-Nagant 1891, Nambu Type 14 pistol, Beretta M38 SMG.
Firearm displays are not limited to modern rifles. A vast collection of black powder guns is on display, and there are some truly ancient firearms to be seen.
Visiting the Museum
The museum is located in the middle of Springfield, and is easy to find. Parking is ample and directly in front of the building. While there were a few others when my family visited, the museum and parking lot were not crowded.
The museum is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm, and closes only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The United States of America owes much to her patriots and her guns. As the Marines say, one without the other is useless. The Springfield Armory is a quiet memorial to the guns that helped win and keep our freedom. It would be a shame if the museum passed into obscurity.
The museum is located at:
Springfield Armory National Historic Site
One Armory Square, Suite 2
Springfield, MA 01105
For more information, people can call (413) 734-8551 or visit http://www.nps.gov/spar/index.htm.