The Third Continental Congress established the Springfield Armory on April 2, 1794. The arsenal’s roots, however, date back to the height of the American Revolutionary War.
A 1776 Congressional act established the first federal Armory at Springfield, as recommended by General Henry Knox. It served as a supply depot during the Revolutionary War and a storage space for arms and powder until 1794.
Arms manufacturing at the Armory began in 1795 with 40 employees, who produced a total of 275 guns. Springfield’s arms production industry yielded dozens of industrial innovations. Armory workers were the first to use mechanized interchangeable parts, which allowed them to quickly complete tasks that would take skilled artisans hours to do by hand. These inventions revolutionized American arms manufacturing and helped propel the Industrial Revolution in the United States.
Armory weapons influenced battlefield tactics in every major conflict in U.S. history. In particular, the Armory provided critical support during the Civil War. After a fire destroyed the Harper’s Ferry Armory, the Springfield Armory became the biggest and most crucial facility of its kind in the country. Harper’s Weekly reported in 1861 that “so many rifles and bayonets are now being turned out of the Springfield Armory, that if our armies lost theirs in every battle they could be replaced in a very short time.”
As technology advanced, the workforce transformed from a small team of artisans into a modern industrial union. World Wars I and II saw a dramatic shift as the traditional labor force went overseas to fight on the front lines. In their absence, women and other minority groups stepped up and took on the necessary labor.
The Armory closed its manufacturing operations in 1968. It reopened in 1978 as a National Park Historic Site. The site features one of the world’s largest collections of small firearms.
For an in-depth look at the Armory’s production facilities in the mid-19th century, read Jacob Abbott’s article, “The Armory at Springfield” published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine July 1852.