A wealth of gun history resides in a slightly dilapidated brick building known as the Springfield Armory. Not to be confused with the modern gun company that leased the rights to the name, the original Springfield Armory was the first, and last, armory of the United States.
Established in 1777 as a military storage depot, the Springfield Armory was authorized by George Washington in 1794 to produce small arms for the US military. The Armory was closed in 1968. In 1978, the Armory was reopened as a National Historic Site.
The Springfield Armory serves as a museum operated by the National Parks Service. The first floor of the armory is filled with display pieces ranging from ancient halberds and hand canons to modern battlefield weaponry.
The Springfield Armory has one of the world’s largest collections of small arms in the world. About 10% of the entire collection is on public display.
Below are just a few of the rare handguns found in the museum:
Japanese Percussion Pepperbox – A pepperbox revolver is an old style of handgun featuring multiple barrels. The barrels were then rotated, either mechanically or by hand, similar to a modern revolver.
This Japanese pepperbox was made mostly of brass and copper with wire wound around each barrel. It had three barrels that were hand-turned. This percussion firearm is particularly rare because Japanese firearm technology was suppressed until the mid-1850’s, which is about the time that metal cartridges began to achieve commercial success.
Stamped 1911A1 – In what may be the ugliest version of the venerable 1911 ever made, this experimental pistol was made from stamped sheet metal.
Post-WWII stamped M1911A1
In the closing months of World War II, Mauser, Walther and Gustloff Weke manufactured a stamped 9mm pistol. So, in 1947 the Guide Lamp division of General Motors attempted to make a lighter-weight service pistol using similar methods.
The pistol was a failure, weighing in at 51 ounces. The standard 1911A1 weighed only 39 ounces. Less than 20 were made.
Colt T4 Automatic – Popular gun culture tells us that the Beretta M9 pistol was forced on the US military as part of a process of standardizing calibers with other NATO countries. What is often left out of the story is the US was looking at a 9mm service pistol before NATO was even formed.
In 1947 the US Army set out specifications for a new 9mm handgun to replace the 1911.
Colt, Smith & Wesson and High Standard all submitted samples. Ultimately, the US Army decided to retain the 1911 pistol as their sidearm because of the large numbers of serviceable guns on hand.
The T4 was a double action 9mm pistol with a 13-round magazine. The barrel was 4” long and the trigger guard could fold away for shooting with thick gloves.
Of the approximately ten T4 pistols made, two are at the Springfield Armory (#1 and #3). Both are missing the trigger guards.
1911A1 Brastil – In 1932, Springfield Armory attempted to produce die-cast 1911A1 pistols using a brass-alloy called “Brastil”. Brastil was a trademarked property of Doehler-Jarvis Corp. who made the alloy to have a high tensile strength and be resistant to corrosion.
According to the Armory, the tests of the gun were successful, and 500 guns were ordered.
Also according to the Armory only two were ever produced. Serial #2 is in the possession of the Armory. Interestingly, a second slide with serial #1 is also in the possession of the Armory, suggesting that there may have been only one gun with two different slides for testing or that the first gun’s frame was separated from the slide for some reason.
Dardick Automatic Revolver – This highly unusual looking revolver was a hybrid of revolver and semi-auto technologies. Using a fifteen round magazine, the Dardick 1500 on display at the Springfield Armory was chambered for .38 Special, with rounds that were fitted into special triangular sleeves. The specially fitted rounds were called “Trounds” and fed into the three-round cylinder from the magazine, which was contained in the grip of the gun. The magazine was not removable.
The Dardick system was made into several models of handguns and a prototype of a carbine version was produced. The guns never saw much commercial success and very few were ever produced.
The Springfield Armory is a national treasure. It represents a significant portion of the history of the United States. The collection of arms in the museum is equally valuable.
If your travels take you through western Massachusetts, you owe it to yourself to spend the afternoon exploring this incredible National Historic Site.