Birth of a museum

The case includes two German weapons from the 19thC and 20thC

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

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.


Order establishing the collection, November 17th, 1862
This order from Brig. Gen. James Ripley, Chief of US Ordnance, to Capt. Alexamder Dyer, Commandant of Springfield Armory, dated November 17th, 1862, established the collection of arms.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

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.


Civil War 'Boker'
CATALOG #: SPAR 4576 [image unavailable, similar to # SPAR 4648 shown]

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

A .72 cal. musket from Suhl, Germany, is typical of the "Bokers" - outdated arms that European governments were happy to unload in this country.


Maj. James G. Benton 1820-1881
Maj. James G. Benton, Armory commander from 1866 to 1881, was credited with expanding the museum and putting it on a more permanent basis.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

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 dedication plague

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

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.


German FG 42

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Brought here during World War II, this captured German FG 42 "paratrooper rifle" was carefully studied and influenced the design of later weapons.


This case includes US M1903 rifle #1 and a Civil War Enfield rifle musket
CASE 51 - Museum Record Keeping and Research

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

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.


hand-colored postcard
Most of the collection seen in this image is still part of the Museum.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS


Gradually the collection became something of a tourist attraction, and Armory managers began opening the museum a few hours a week to the public.

Museum interior circa 1930
The unique collection at Springfield Armory Museum remains an important resource for researchers, historians, and authors. The documentation on each object allows both museum curators and serious researchers to track the information of each object. Over time, a researcher could trace an object from its original registration and accession into the museum’s collection and its use and historic significance.

Springfield Armory NHS archives cat.#6530-sa.a.1, US NPS

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.


Many personally-marked Civil War muskets are displayed in the Museum

Springfield Armory NHS collection SPAR 2439, US NPS

A PERSONALLY-MARKED CIVIL WAR ENFIELD RIFLE MUSKET A decorated Civil War Enfield inscribed "Mattie Be True" by a sentimental soldier caught the attention of inspectors and was set aside. It has remained in the collection ever since.


US M1903 rifle #1 markings
US M1903 rifle, serial number 1.

Springfield Armory NHS collection, cat.#: SPAR 1500, US NPS

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.


Springfield Armory's US Ordnance Department crest
The Springfield Armory crest was adapted from the US ARMY's Ordnance Department crest.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

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.

Last updated: June 16, 2021

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Springfield Armory National Historic Site
One Armory Square
Suite 2

Springfield , MA 01105


413 734-8551
The phone is answered during museum operating hours. All other times callers will be prompted to leave a voice message that will be received and responded to during museum operating hours.

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