Genius of Springfield
The GENIUS OF SPRINGFIELD exhibit area, cases 56, & 57 and the Lyle "Life Saving" gun.
After the Civil War the United States was left with thousands of muzzle-loading percussion muskets. While the barrels of these rifles were perfectly good, technological advance represented by breech-loading rifles firing metallic cartridges, had been put aside while the Nation faced its crisis. With the conclusion of the war the government decided to convert the muzzleloaders into breechloaders. Erskine Allin was one of several individuals who contributed modification designs.
Allin was born February 3, 1809, and began work at the Armory in 1829 as an apprentice in the Water Shops where his father Diah worked as a foreman. He rose through the ranks, and between October 1847 and May 1848 he served as Acting Master Armorer. In 1853 he was appointed permanent Master Armorer.
Allin’s greatest contribution was the development of the “Trapdoor” breech mechanism which could be adapted to the existing muzzle-loading rifles. In competition his design proved to be the most acceptable, and he was requested to convert 5,000 M1861 rifle-muskets to use the new breech. These were known as the M1865s. The next year, after improvements were made in the extractor, 25.000 rifle-muskets were ordered altered. The first rifles built from the start as Trapdoors – not converted from earlier muzszle-loaders – were completed in 1873. Allin retired five years later and died on September 11, 1879. In tribute, the Armory shut down on the day of Allin’s funeral. It is estimated that 250 of the 3000 Armory workers attended the funeral, a testimony of the esteem in which he was held.
As Master Armorer, Erskine Allin indicated his acceptance of a completed rifle by the imprint on the stock of the weapon of an oval cartouche bearing his initials.
The inventor of the famed M1 Rifle was born on January 1, 1888. As a youth Garand patented a telescopic screw jack and a machine for winding bobbins used in cotton mills. He then worked as a tool and gauge maker for Browne and Sharpe Company and as foreman and machine designer for Federal Screw Corporation. After reading of the malfunctions and jams in the machine guns the American troops were using in World War I, Garand designed a weapon that so impressed government officials that he was hired to build a test weapon. On November 4, 1919, he was transferred from Washington, D.C., to Springfield. He would spend the remainder of his working life there and in the time develop one of the most praised infantry weapons ever made: the M1 semi-automatic rifle.
His work at the armory was quickly marked by a patent for a rifle that used a primer-actuated set back system for semi-automatic fire. He continued experimentation and by 1927 had completed a semi-automatic rifle that used the new .276 caliber cartridge preferred by the Army. However in 1932 Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur decided the Army should stay with the larger .30 caliber cartridge.
In 1936 the Army approved for production the M1, the initial designs of which Garand had worked out in 1924. By the time production was completed, more than six and a half million M1s had been made. The high number of units produced reflects not only Garand’s weapons design abilities, but also Garand’s contribution to the design of the machines to make the weapons.
Some may have thought that Garand was the typical eccentric inventor, but he did take care not to damage his house. The parlor floor was covered with protective sheeting before being flooded to make a skating rink. He found skating to be a particularly relaxing diversion from the rigors of the laboratory.
After graduation from West Point in 1869, David Lyle, a specialist in ordnance, began his military career with duty at San Francisco’s Benecia Arsenal. When the Secretary of the Treasury, who was responsible for the Life Saving Service, asked for the Army’s assistance in improving lifesaving apparatus, Lyle was assigned the task “in addition to his regular duties.”
Lyle transferred to Springfield Armory where he spent two years reviewing and experimenting with the various devices available. By 1878 he had developed an accurate light weight gun which was put into service at lifesaving stations along the Nation’s coasts. As testimony to the effectiveness of Lyle’s work, it has been estimated that by 1906 the gun was responsible for saving approximately 4500 lives. Lyle’s life saving gun remained in production through World War II.
David Lyle was a person of varied interests. Although his best known contribution was the development of the life saving gun, he also published studies on the manufacture of leather, rasps and files, and scientific papers on ornithological and geological subjects.
Thomas Blanchard (1788-1864) was born on June 24th, 1788, in Sutton, Massachusetts, near Worcester. His first invention was a tack-making machine which he invented at age eighteen and perfected over the next six years. This made production of tacks, which Thomas and his brother had been previously engaged in making, easier and more efficient at a rate of five-hundred per minute. Soon he was working for Asa Waters, a major contractor in nearby Millbury, producing flintlock muskets supplementing those made at Springfield Armory.
Thomas Blanchard's invention of the duplicating lathe, first used at Springfield Armory, was one of the most significant developments in American industrial history. It permitted exact duplication of irregular wooden shapes, such as gun stocks. This was an important step in creating mass production techniques. The original machines relied on water power at the Water Shops.
Last updated: February 26, 2015