Steam Power

The ERA OF STEAM is introduced with this display

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

The introduction of steam power in the two decades before the Civil War freed the Armory from dependence on an uncertain waterpower and made it possible to transfer some manufacturing operations to the Hill shops. The Water shops remained important, however, and their efficiency was increased by combining all activities at the Upper Water Shops site.

Relying on a steam engine as a central power source required energy to be transferred to individual machines, resulting in the profusion of belts and shafts that characterizes late-nineteenth century shops. Meanwhile, the machines themselves were being steadily improved, making it possible to work to finer tolerances. These changes were accompanied by the development of more exact measuring devices, such as the screw micrometer and the headspace gauge.

Exhibits of workers and manufacturing from the mid 19th Century to the Turn of the Century

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

The ERA OF STEAM POWER exhibit area, cases 63, & 64 and the Barrel-Straightening station
This case displays three Springfield Armory weapons and an image of an early electrical generator.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Changes came slowly to the Armory. Steam replaced water as the prime motive force, but in the workshops, belts and line shafting still drove the machines.

Weapons displayed top to bottom catalog#

U.S. “Trapdoor” Carbine M1870 SPAR 1110

U.S. Navy “Rolling Block” Rifle M1870 SPAR 6006

U.S. Magazine Rifle “Krag-Jorgensen” M1892 SPAR 6364

This 19th C steam engine was replaced about 1922
The Armory's first steam engines, from Troy, NY, were procured in the 1830's to supplement the Watershops' water power in times of low water flow.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Pride of work and workmanship is evident in the weapons and workshops of the Armory. Even the steam-powered Corliss engine, used to generate some electricity for lighting, was a source of pride as evidenced by the care which was lavished on it. Notice the oil cans set out on the small table like a silver tea service.


Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Obviously, a gun cannot shoot straight if the barrel is not straight. The technique for straightening a barrel has changed little over the years. The tested looks through the barrel at a scribed line seeing what was described in the 1850’s as “very resplendent congeries of concentric rings, forming a spectacle of very dazzling brilliancy.” Look through these barrels and pull the lever. The distortion caused by the bend in the barrel will become apparent.

next to CASE 63

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Try your skill at barrel straightening! See what a barrel straightener sees!

Located between exhibit CASE 63 and CASE 64 is a barrel straightener mounted in a box for you to use.

The group photos are of employees from several different shops in 1886.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Precision and Performance

Improved metallurgy combined with improved machinery tightened the tolerances that could be achieved in the manufacture of newer weapons and led to increased performance of the weapons. To ensure that these tolerances were achieved and maintained new tools, such as head space gauges and micrometers, were introduced.

VIDEO - final assembly & inspection during a visit by a British delegation to Springfield Armory in the early 1850's

19th C gauges, jigs, & taps

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Close-up of CASE 64

Shown here are some of the jigs, gauges, tapes & dies used in Armory production in the mid-19th Century. The group portraits are from September 1886.

Armory stocking shop in September 1886
In this fine group portrait in CASE 64, notice how each worker is dressed in his work outfit and holding his tools & gauges, thereby demonstrating his particular role in producing the rifle stock in a "Division of Labor". The man in the black suit in the foreground is Master Mechanic Samuel W. Porter, with his gauges and stamps on the stool for the final inspection stamping of his initials "S.W.P.". The older man seated next to him is Foreman James Stillman who started working at the Armory in 1835 and died in the mid-1890's.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

close-up of Stockers group portrait
A close-up of the retangular paper on the rifle buttstock held by James Stillman reveals the numerals 1835 (the year James Stillman started working at the Stocking Shop) above 1886 (the year of the photo). It appears to commemorate his 51 years of service.

Springfield Armory NHS, US NPS

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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