Springfield Armory was established during the administration of George Washington as a manufactory of military arms. Its museum function developed largely by accident. During and after the Civil War, large number of captured and surplus weapons were sent to the Armory to be reconditioned. Many of these were deemed to have no military value and were put aside as curiosities. This was the beginning of the museum collection.
At the outset of the Civil War, when the Union was forced to buy arms from any available source, European arsenals were scoured for surplus weapons. So many kinds of weapons arrived that the Armory commander was ordered to keep a sample of each. These guns were collectively called "Bokers" after the company that was the primary importer. Later, these specimens were added to the collection.
A .72 cal. musket from Suhl, Germany, is typical of the "Bokers" - outdated arms that European governments were happy to unload in this country.
Benton apparently originated the idea of making the museum a "reference library" of weapons. Beginning with weapons captured during the Indian Wars and continuing until its final years, the Armory attempted to collect sample weapons from all over the world.
Benton Collection bronze plaque The museum can no longer depend on weapons picked up on distant battlefields to augment its collection. Like most museums, we depend on donations for continued growth. Despite its size, the collection still has several voids we would like to fill. (A current list of our most urgent "wants" is kept at the Information Desk.) In addition to firearms, we welcome donations of tools, documentation, and similar memorabilia related to the Armory. Under the guidelines of our "Scope of Collections," emphasis is given to Springfield Armory products, other military small arms, and material pertaining to the history of the Armory.
Environmental Monitoring Monitoring the museum environment is essential to the health of a museum, its objects and its visitors. The museum environment is composed of the relative humidity and the temperature. If the temperature becomes too cold, the relative humidity could rise, and eventually condense water vapor on the metal, causing rust. Conversely, if the temperature becomes too warm, the relative humidity could drop, causing severe drying of the wood.
With the Museum apparently becoming a permanent fixture, efforts began to manage it in accord with established museum practices. The 1909 catalog represents an early attempt to get the collection under systematic control.
Gradually the collection became something of a tourist attraction, and Armory managers began opening the museum a few hours a week to the public.
Another cataloging effort by the Armory began in the 1930’s. Like the earlier attempt, it was not completed.
Today the National Park Service uses a specialized computer program to manage the collection. Detailed information on each weapon is readily available to the museum’s curators and other researchers.
Computers and database technology added still better tools for both curators and researchers to sort and combine objects with similar backgrounds. Today, the National Park Service is testing a new database technology which joins imaging with text block information fields to display complete information about an object for the museum visitor.
US M1903 rifle, serial number 1 Retaining and displaying especially significant guns, such as the M1903 Serial Number 1, helped secure public interest and support for the Armory.
After the decision to close Springfield Armory in 1964, many citizens of Springfield, aided by supporters elsewhere in the nation, sought to retain the museum in the city. Eventually the Department of the Army agreed, and this building was transferred to the city, while the collection was loaned to a semi-private organization, Springfield Armory Museum, Inc.
Springfield Armory National Historic Site was established by Congress in 1974 and in 1978 the National Park Service assumed management of the museum. Since then much effort has gone into renovating and improving the resources entrusted to the care of the National Park Service.