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Thursday, July 30, 2015

John F. Kennedy's M1 Garand

Lot 1807: Historically Significant, Documented U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy U.S. Springfield Armory National Match 1959 M1 Garand Semi-Automatic Rifle

The War Department Appropriations Bill of 1903 established many things, but the one that begins our story today is its founding of the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice.  Teddy Roosevelt was in office at the time and his enthusiasm for the shooting sports, and this bill, also gave rise to the National Rifle and Pistol Trophy Matches.  Needless to say that the government wanted its citizens proficient in firearms use, perhaps spurred on by the recently ended Spanish-American War (1899) and the numerous other conflicts in which America involved itself in the Caribbean, Pacific islands, and Central America (a.k.a. "The Banana Wars").

By 1905, Teddy has signed off on "Public Law 149,"which permitted the sale of surplus military rifles, ammo, and equipment, at cost, to qualified rifle clubs.  This was followed by the National Defense Act in 1916.  Watching the Europeans immerse themselves in the Great War, in addition to Pancho Villa's raid in New Mexico, gave America cause for concern despite President Woodrow Wilson's re-election campaign slogan of, "He kept us out of the war."  The NDA, an update of the Militia Act of 1903, expanded the National Guard and Army, basically prepared the United States for eventual war, and authorized the War Department to distribute guns and ammunition to the qualified rifle clubs.  It also opened military ranges to civilians and even gave funds to keep all those ranges open.  Many of the responsibilities for these arms and ranges were under the umbrella of the "Office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM), which was in turn administered by the Army.  In 1996, when the Army decided it had better things to do, this would turn into it's own private, non-profit company, officially named the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice & Firearms Safety, better known today as the CMP ("Civilian Marksmanship Program").

Back in 1959, the Director of Marksmanship for the CMP was Colonel John K. Lee Jr, a man who very likely would have been made aware that a young upstart senator from Massachusetts had been selected to receive an M1 Garand.  That senator was John F. Kennedy.  At that time, the DCM was distributing the rifles based on a lottery system, with only several hundred to a thousand being sold in a given year.  Many folks would wait years for a random rifle selected from the surplus kept at various depots, but it appears that Kennedy's clout granted him quick access to the very desirable rifles, and a very special one at that.

This M1 started from one of those depots, the Erie Ordnance Depot in Port Clinton, OH to be precise, but was far from a random selection.  The rifle picked for Senator Kennedy bears a late production 6+ million serial number and is a Type 1 National Match M1 Garand, that has been rebuilt to a Type 2.  After the NM rifle "happened" to be selected for Kennedy, it also "happened" to make its way to Master Sergeant Raymond E Parkinson, a gunsmith assigned to the Second U.S. Army Advanced Marksmanship Unit at Ft. George C. Meade in Maryland.  Once there, much of the work took place that can be seen on the rifle to this day.  In fact, COL Lee was kind enough to detail such changes in a letter he sent to Senator Kennedy after the rifle was received.  The modifications, as listed in the communication, are:
  1. Adjusted the trigger in order to provide an exacting trigger pull for each shot fired.
  2. Blued all metal parts to prevent rust and enhance the beauty of the weapon.
  3. Applied a moisture-proof silicon finish to the stock.
  4. Applied a glass-bedding compound to the recoil shoulders of the stock in order to enable the rifle to maintain its accuracy.
  5.  Air-tested the bore for correct calibration and flaws.
  6. Test-fired the rifle in a sitting position at 200 yards.

"For your information, Mast Sergeant Parkinson did the test firing and the target is enclosed.  The rifle was not test-fired from a cradle because the gun smiths did not want to scar the stock, however, the test proved conclusively that the rifle is very accurate and as good as any rifle used at the National Matches."

Even the effort to not mar the stock by firing it from a cradle clearly shows the utmost car taken in creating this gun for Kennedy.  Thankfully, the documentation of the rifle's journey has also been preserved.  Accompanying this rifle are a copy of the original DD1348 form noting that it was shipped to Senator Kennedy in October of 1959, the copy of the aforementioned memorandum from COL Lee to Kennedy, the actual 200 yard test target shot by MSG Parkinson, and a copy of the letter of appreciation that Kennedy wrote to MSG Parkinson thanking him for his work and attention to the rifle.

A treasured thank you letter.

This rifle has attracted its fair share of attention over the years.  The May 1967 issue of "The American Rifleman" featured an article on the rifle written by MSG Parkinson himself called, "A Letter Of Appreciation For A Rifle."  In it, he states that he had no idea who the rifle was for and that, just like anyone else, a random rifle was chosen for the task.  He writes, "As no substitution could be made even for someone in Congress, the Colonel [Carpenter] indicated that if I could fix up the piece in my off-duty time, it would reflect a helpful attitude and would be appreciated by the gentleman for whom the M1 was destined."  Also mentioned by Parkinson is the custom made shipping and storage crate he created for this special request rifle, which still accompanies it to this day.

The rifle was also requested by the NRA Firearms Museum in September of 1970 in order to display it an exhibit that showed "a few selected firearms owned by Presidents and other notables."  The letter is included in this lot, as is the letter of the receipt from October 1970 when the rifle was received by the NRA Firearms Museum and temporarily housed there.

Since this rifle was obtained almost a year before he would be elected to the Presidency, it is entirely possible that this rifle followed Kennedy into the White House.  This is an amazing firearm worthy of the finest collections of U.S. military arms, M1 Garands, and even Kennedy memorabilia.  It is a rare chance to own a personal possession of the beloved veteran, congressman, and president.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Parkinson, R. E. "A Letter of Appreciation For A Rifle." American Rifleman Oct. 1967: 40. Print.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Arsenal of Innovation - Part II

Our previous article on the Rock Island Arsenal covered a portion of the goods produced by the industrious island.  I began writing it as a small summary piece, but it quickly blossomed as the full scope of the arsenal's production came to light.  What I started became the first installment and only covered up through the 19th century.  Thankfully, there's still a lot of fun stuff to cover as we look at the goods produced in the 20th century and beyond.

Documented Historic Brigadier General Issued Rock Island Arsenal M15 General Officer's Pistol with Paperwork, Display Case, General Officer's Belt, Holsters and Spare Magazine,
SOLD: $9,200

We ended the first article in 1885 when the arsenal had started up their jewelry department.  This turns out to be a remarkably appropriate place to break as it nearly marks the end of tenure for Lieutenant Colonel Daniel W. Flagler on the island.  To briefly recap, General Rodman, the "Father of the Arsenal," had planned the arsenal and begun to shape it when he passed away, in part to his long hours and tremendous work ethic, and the job passed to Flagler,  who completed Rodman's vision admirably.  Flagler's term ended on April of 1886 and the remarkable building and expansion that had taken place at the arsenal slowed to all but a halt with a few notable exceptions: a new concrete dam was built in 1896 and the conversion from Teledynamic power to hydroelectricity began in 1899.

With production for the Spanish-American War going full speed at that time, it's a wonder that the conversion was made at all, and it might not have been for several more years had the existing power house with its wooden frame not caught fire.  Knowing that teledynamic power had its limitations and "bugs" (jammed cables, broken cables, slacken cables, etc), the Army made the easy choice to move forward with the new power source.

Fine Pre-World War I U.S. Rock Island Arsenal Model 1903 Bolt Action Rifle with Sling
SOLD: $3,162

1898 - 1903, Spanish-American War Production

Humor me with a brief timeline.

March 9, 1898: Urgent telegram sent to Rock Island Arsenal from Chief of Ordnance that read, "work (should) be pushed (at RIA) on all existing orders as rapidly as possible, and extra shifts of workmen (should) be employed." 

March 26, 1898: RIA receives orders to produce 25,000 complete infantry kits.  Within a fort night, the commander at the arsenal was sent a message to, "press work on all field gun and siege gun carriages as rapidly as possible, employing extra shifts of men as far as economical."

April 21, 1898:  Rock Island Arsenal is ordered to increase infantry kits to 75,000 and begin manufacture of 10,000 units of horse equipment.

April 25, 1898:  U.S. declares war on Spain, but makes it retroactive to April 22.

You can imagine the rapid growth required to meet such a gargantuan increase in demand.  Departments began working day and night, new orders were coming in almost weekly, and eventually much work was contracted out to private companies.  Infantry kits, horse kits, carriages, and more were all produced at the Rock Island Arsenal.  Even as early as July of that year, there were 46 private contractors completing orders for RIA and 131 more producing the material needed to complete the orders such as cotton webbing, duck material, tin plate, brass wire and brass sheet, rope, leather, steel, iron, wood, and canvas.  Originally having only around 500 employees of men and boys, many of whom were temporary, employment boomed on the island and by its peak in August, RIA employed 2,900 and was turning out 6,000 infantry kits, completed 7,000 bayonet scabbards, and repaired 600 rifles per day.  One line from "An Illustrated History of the Rock Island Arsenal and Arsenal Island, Part II," (which this article depends on heavily for its thorough research) says it best, "The RIA literally equipped the American soldiers who fought in the Spanish-American War."

Perhaps even more impressive is the Arsenal had not even come close to tapping its potential.  Of the ten stone shops constructed on the island, only one and a half housed machines for manufacture.  It wouldn't be until the Great War that the full power of the Rock Island Arsenal would be unleashed.

Utensils and meat can produced by RIA.

From 1902 to 1910, RIA was the sole manufacturer of the Army's utensils.
Shown bottom right are a set of M1910 utensils

This canteen resembles the Sovereign's Orb of the United Kingdom.

1899, Small Arms Production

Rock Island Arsenal had been refurbishing arms for the U.S. Army since 1865, mostly Springfield Trapdoor rifles.  

Springfield Model 1862 rifled musket

Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Carbine

However, the superior performance of the island during the emergency production increase of the Spanish-American War earned it a new mission: build a new rifle to replace the outdated Krag-Jørgensen.  Due to the Army's delays in the testing and selection process, that mission would wait until December of 1904 when the arsenal would finally begin producing the Springfield M1903 bolt action rifle.  However, production of the classic bolt-action on the island would be ceased in 1913 due to government budget cuts.  When the need for these rifles rose again in 1917, the arsenal no longer had the necessary number of skilled workers required who still remembered how to make the rifle, so manufacture of the M1906 took priority at RIA while the M1903 was largely contracted out to private makers.

They even chose to display a rare M1903 with a rod bayonet

1903 - Present, Artillery and Carriages

As mentioned earlier, the Spanish-American War pushed RIA head first into mobile field artillery.  They were producing field carriages, limbers, caissons, battery wagons, and, carriages for siege guns.  Basically, if a large piece of firepower needed to be moved, RIA likely had a hand in its transportation.  Even after the Spanish-American War ended, the arsenal couldn't take a break.  Changing technologies, mainly from horse drawn to self-propelled vehicles, meant that new carriage designs were needed, and now that the war had shown the arsenal the kind of demand that could quickly arise, efforts were also taken to upgrade machinery and enhance automation.

Rock Island Arsenal Field Piece Manufacture, public domain.  Available from the United States Library of Congress
As mentioned in the first RIA article, carriages have always been a big deal for the arsenal and remain so to this day.  While none of the actual carriages or artillery pieces were on display at the Putnam, they did have many models showcasing the island's many products, which will be shown later in this article.

One of the more impressive things ever produced at the arsenal is the Mark VIII Tank.  Even after the November 11 Armistice, RIA received an order for 100 of the behemoths. Then the peak of technology, they could hold eight men and it only took the arsenal 286 days to complete once all the parts had been standardized properly.  The image below is the result of several photos of a single large panorama in the exhibit which reads, "Shipment of 34 Mark VIII Tanks from Rock Island Arsenal to Camp Meade, MD, May 21, 1920."

As time went on they would go on to produce any number of carriages and mobile artillery pieces, constantly evolving with the technology and the changing conflicts.  Here are some examples that were on display, though they are far from exhaustive on the topic.

M2 Tanks in production in Shop M, Building 220.  Note the tiny 37mm barrels.

The device shown in the photo above is reminiscent of the water rockets one would "launch" as a child, but this one enjoys a slightly larger effect.  What you see is the "Davy Crockett," the smallest nuclear weapons system ever built.  Devised prior to the peak of the Cold War this recoilless rifle was essentially a nuclear bazooka (or "ba-nuka" as I like to say) made to halt the Russians in the event they invaded West Germany.  Its M388 round held a W-54 warhead and was 11 inches in diameter, weighing 51 lbs; designed to be carried by a single soldier and roughly three times more powerful than the explosion of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.  Range was a scant 2 - 2.5 miles, so firing into the wind was inadvisable at best.  Anything within a quarter mile of the explosion would almost certainly die, but the radioactivity created would also stay any advancing troops giving the U.S. and NATO forces a chance to act.  Fired in several tests, the 2,100 produced were never used in combat before being stockpiled and eventually decommissioned in 1971.  Only the non-nuclear components were manufactured at the RIA.  This "mini-nuke" was definitely King of the Wild Frontier.

Besides manufacture, RIA also has performed a lot of research and development for the Army, coming up with many innovative ideas along the way.  This "Soft Recoil 105mm Howitzer" was designed for fighting in Vietnam where the marshy ground could cause problems for traditional Howitzer carriages.  Photo is dated "30 June 65" in the bottom right corner.

Looking like a very angry tank, this concept of a self-propelled howitzer shows yet another way that RIA has kept up with technology and the ever-changing demands of the Army.  Photo is dated "15 Mar 66."

These are actual models of proposed weapons that were paired with conceptual drawings as a very real part of the weapons development process.  They may look like toys now, but they were once part of some deadly serious business.

More models designed at the arsenal.

1905, Arsenal Museum is Formed

This fact wasn't so much mentioned in the exhibit, but when you're surrounded with items from the Rock Island Arsenal Military Museum, it seems silly not to list it.  Founded appropriately on the 4th of July that year, it is the Army's second oldest museum, younger only than the one found at West Point Academy.  Please read more about their origin and ever increasing role to preserve the arsenal's history at their webpage.  The small arms collection there is nationally renowned.

This portion of the RIA small arms collection was NOT on display at the Putnam

1918 - Present, John Deere

John Deere, headquartered in neighboring Moline, IL, has always been a valued contributor to the U.S. armed forces.  In WWI, over 1,000 of their employees served, and in WWII they added to the production effort, making military tractors, transmissions for tanks, ammunition, airplane parts, engine components, and even mobile laundry units.  Today, their contribution lies mostly in producing M-Gators, versions of their popular 6-wheeled "Gator" ATVs that have been converted to carrying the wounded.  The one shown in the exhibit is the first production model ever assembled, and of course, it was done at the nearby Rock Island Arsenal.

Current Production

The caption provided at the museum reads, "Today's Arsenal is characterized by public/private partnerships.  The Mandus Group, one of these partners, manufactures the Hawkeye Weapon System, a modular lightweight howitzer that can be mounted on a variety of vehicles, even a pick-up truck."

Unfortunately, I don't know if that means the item was designed or actually fabricated at RIA or Mandus.

The arsenal also takes on many projects revolving around HMMWVs (Humvees).  On display was an armored door they currently manufacture next to a non-armored door.  Shutting and knocking on these doors makes it instantly clear which door one would rather have in combat.

They also work with the National Guard to produce Humvee Ambulances to maximize storage capacity, increase interior door size, and also improve lighting and ventilation.  Signs in the museum indicate that these "new ambulances are being built in the exact same shop that put out the familiar Jeep ambulances of 50 years ago."

In addition to ambulances, RIA is also producing other specialized modifications for Humvees.  Soldiers aren't the only ones who might need attention in the field.  If a hydraulic system suffers a malfunction in the field, the Hydraulic System Test and Repair Unit (HSTRU) is certain to come in handy.  It's another co-venture with MandusGroup, who is also responsible for the image below.

Much in the same way that RIA built its own forges and made giant leaps ahead in self-sufficiency during the 1800s, the Arsenal is again embracing that same spirit in 3D printing. They are currently partnering with the Quad City Manufacturing Laboratory (QCML) to access cutting edge technology in order to more sucecssfully complete their mission.  Innovation comes much more quickly when parts for prototypes or repairs can be quickly printed on site... in metal.  General Rodman would have given up Quarters One for such advances.

This cube is a "demonstration component for a nuclear reactor" and is made from stainless steel
for a project with Lockheed-Martin.

This impeller is printed from titanium alloy.

I wish I could say, "that covers it," but these two articles on the Rock Island Arsenal in no way begin to cover the goods that have been produced on its 946 acres.  You'll notice that the products from the Great War and World War II were all but omitted.  Those goods tend to be a bit more well-known to collectors due to the massive scope of those conflicts.  The exhibit at the Putnam Museum chose instead to focus on goods that would be decidedly less familiar to enthusiasts of military history and the arsenal.  Besides, it's really hard to fit an M2 tank on the second story of a museum.

Thanks to both the Putnam Museum and the Rock Island Arsenal Museum for collaborating to put together such an informative, in-depth, and educational exhibit on this local and national treasure. There is no doubt RIA will continue its relevance, contributions and innovation in the centuries to come.

"M2A2 Terra Star 105mm Auxiliary Propelled Howitzer front quarter" by Jon.jeckell - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On display at the outdoor RIA artillery collection, this M2A2 Terra Star, is known
to be the only surviving prototype.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Lepore, Herbery P., "Rock Island Arsenal: An Arsenal for Democracy, 50th Anniversary of WWII"  Historical Office,

Slattery, Thomas J., "An Illustrated History of the Rock Island Arsenal Island, Part Two" Historical Office, U.S. Army Armament, 1989

Wallace, Lisa, "An Illustrated History of the Rock Island Arsenal and Arsenal Island, Part Three" History Office, U.S. Army Sustainment Command

Display information at "An Arsenal of Innovation," Putnam Museum, Davenport, IA

Friday, July 17, 2015

An Arsenal of Innovation, Part I

Image courtesy of the Putnam Museum

When I began to research different aspects of the Rock Island Arsenal for our ongoing series of articles covering the island, I made the happy discovery that a local museum was running an exhibit about the arsenal as well.  Titled "Arsenal of Innovation" it focuses on the island's manufacturing prowess, the contributions it has made to the U.S. military, and how its role has changed over time and in various conflicts.  The exhibit is currently on display with many items on loan from the actual Rock Island Arsenal Museum and will run through Sunday, November 15.  By chance, the Putnam is also showing "D-Day: Normandy 1944" in its IMAX theater, so U.S. history buffs and military enthusiasts will have no problem spending an afternoon at the facility.

The Putnam Museum in Davenport, IA

I took photos of just about everything on display, but have tried to narrow it down to a few of the most fascinating or impressive things that the Rock Island Arsenal has done in its nearly two centuries of existence.  With that said, and the founding of Fort Armstrong in 1816, Rock Island Arsenal will be celebrating its bicentennial next year.  It's good to see interest in local history and few such interests are fortunately enough to be graced with a timely museum exhibit.  A tip of the hat to the Putnam for their work and recognition of such an event.  Now let's take a look inside and see what historical militaria they have on display.

Right off the bat you can see that there are some really good aspects of the exhibit and some things that could be improved.  Then again, since this is a temporary exhibit and a museum in a small market, I'm sure that options and funding are more limited than they are at say the Smithsonian or Chicago's Museum of Natural History.  That said, the amount of material that was shown readily achieves its goal of showcasing a wide variety of what the Rock Island Arsenal has produced through the decades.

In showing these manufactured goods, I'll try to go as chronologically as possible.  However, one of the things I felt was a shortcoming of the exhibit was the lack of chronological presentation.  Granted, some of the earliest items (leather goods, mess kits) are in front and the most modern (Humvee armor) are in the rear, but ultimately things are organized into groups.  A group of Great War items here, a group of Cold War goods there, etc.  I do like that aspect of the exhibit, as it gives a true scope of the items produced during each era.  Two other shortcomings, I felt were the lack of firearms shown (then again, I'm admittedly very biased toward that), and the missed potential of vertical space in the exhibit.  As seen above, it's a very tall room and the only large item to use that space is the clock face.  Placing tall items against walls or even hanging things from the ceiling could have given the exhibit a more "permanent" feel, shown some neat items, and really been attractive to the eye.

On a more positive note, they do have some interesting, easy-to-use, and in-depth interactive displays in the museum (like the one shown below specifically made for the Arsenal Exhibit).  They also had a Jeep and artillery piece on display in the lobby for their IMAX theater, which helped promote the exhibit as well as the D-Day movie.

This display gave first hand account of former arsenal employees, many of which related to items in the exhibit.

These are just my opinions.  I'm sure there are designers of museum exhibits out there just itching to tell me that the arrangement of this exhibit encourages exploration or is better in one way or another.  To that I say, you're probably right.  The "shortcomings" mentioned above are merely the opinion of someone with zero experience in that field.  Please take any criticisms with that grain of salt.

Canvas goods produced for the Army by the Rock Island Arsenal.

1863, Clock Tower Construction Begins

The original 1867 clock hands shown here were donated to the Putnam in 1954.
Current day Clock Tower as seen on Google Earth.  Photopgrapher: Robert Maihofer II, © All Rights Reserved 

Not so coincidentally, one of the very first things that you see when walking into the exhibit is the life-size replica of the arsenal's clock tower face that bears the clock's original hands.  The face is roughly 12 feet in diameter and the hands are five and six feet long.  The first clock was purchased from A.S. Hotchkiss of New York City for the large sum of $5,000.  That's especially impressive since the Clock Tower, finished in 1867, was the first permanent government structure on the island.  It was originally built on top of what was then known modestly as "Storehouse A," but by 1868, had three more clock faces added to the remaining sides of the clock tower.  The original hands were replaced in 1954 and donated to the museum.  Today the Clock Tower building serves as an office building for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (since 1934) and the clock still operates as installed.

1871, Recycling

In 1871, Colonel Thomas Jackson Rodman, largely considered to be the "Father of the Arsenal" for his work in its initial design and subsequent growth, began building a blacksmith shop and later that same year would add blast furnaces to that facility.  Besides allowing the arsenal to produce building or ordnance materials, they could also implement another innovation: recycling.  Rodman would die in June of that year, but his successor, Major Flagler, was very ready to utilize these cupola furnaces to minimize construction costs, save time on the delivery of new materials, and increase the island's self sufficiency.  Tons of scrap metal existed from the Civil War: cannons, bullets, horse shoes, and more.  Previously all this material would be sold to dealers, but now the arsenal was making all sorts of material for their own use such as castings, iron columns for construction, sewer pipes, fences, railings, trusses, weights, pulleys, machines, and many other types of fixtures.  Brass was also re-purposed for construction needs.

Post Civil War shot yard full of unused ordnance at the Rock Island Arsenal.

That ordnance after being repurposed at the arsenal.

A staircase on the arsenal made from recycled metal.

1875 - 1921, Leather Equipment

Early in 1875, General Stephen V. Benet, later the Chief of United States Army Ordnance, sent the Rock Island Arsenal Commander an order for 3,000 sets of infantry equipment  and 3,000 saddles. This would mark the beginning of manufacturing for the Army at the arsenal. Prior to 1875, the arsenal's foundry and other buildings were very active producing construction material and shop equipment, but it was for the proliferation of the island's facilities and not the U.S. Army.  Also, the arsenal had been refurbishing small arms at this point, mostly Trapdoor rifles, but had not yet begun manufacturing them.  Throughout this time of cavalry use, the Rock Island Arsenal would produce saddles, bridles, reins, harnesses, stirrups, gun belts, saddles bags, cartridge pouches, slings, holsters, and scabbards.  The large boost in the production of leather goods was largely due to the Spanish-American war and gave rise to the island's Metal Polishing & Plating Department for all the rivets, buckles, and hardware on the aforementioned leather goods.

Note the crest on the front of the machine framework, also made by arsenal employees.
These were people proud of their job and their quality.

The finished products.

The sewing machine shown were originally made by Wheeler and Wilson, which, after their bankruptcy, was purchased by Singer who would continue to provide machines for the arsenal.  Many times large inventions or innovations (like the following section on the Telodynamic power) receive all the attention, but it was refreshing to see in this exhibit the many small ways that arsenal employees took it upon themselves to make small changes in their environment and work space to become more efficient.  The sewing machine table shown below is a prime example of this.  Basically, it's just a longer sewing machine table, but it was adapted from its original, standard size for use on the arsenal.  The longer table allowed the larger or longer objects to be supported while the employees worked on them, thus completing the task more quickly and easily.

Another example of these small innovations can be seen on the wooden saddler's bench shown below.  Notice the pad on the wooden seat?  Notice what it is made from?  Someone had that seat put together from the materials the arsenal was using to make the U.S. Army's canvas goods.  It's just a simple cushion, but once it was created and seen by coworkers, I bet it wasn't the only one in the shop.  Just another small way the employees of the arsenal addressed a problem and tackled it themselves.

Some of the mess kits and smaller leather goods also created by the arsenal.

1879, Telodynamic Power

As the variety and load of the work increased at the arsenal, so did the demand for powered machinery.  New buildings were going up and an answer would be needed in short form.  Enter Major Daniel W. Flagler (eventually Brigadier General Flagler) who introduced an innovative new telodynamic system.  The system used the Mississippi River to turn several turbines that, through a series of gears, turned a huge drive wheel 15 feet in diameter.

This wheel spun a cable, much like a ski lift, that proceeded north to a series of large towers behind the work shops.  Wheels on the towers transferred that same energy into the shops by using wires to turn a centralized overhead "drive shaft" of sorts.

In this photo, workmen can be seen attaching the cables that would eventually
transfer power into the shops.

When workers inside needed to power their machine, they would allow their machine's belts to come into contact with the drive shaft.  Such an idea of belt driven machines was not new, Winchester was using belts to polish his rifles almost as soon as the company bore his name, but the idea of transferring the available energy such a long distance and dispersing it in such a way was an early innovation in the history of the arsenal.  These belts powered machinery for all manner of tasks: sawing, grinding, polishing, cutting, and more.  The Teledyne system would eventually be replaced by electrical power generators in 1901.

1881, Printing Press

Not a huge innovation, but it's interesting to know that the arsenal also operated a printing press to print out many different types of targets for the Army.  They would create their own metal printing plates used in the process, and also created rolls of "target pasters," which were essentially stickers to cover bullet holes so that paper targets could be reused.  The pasters would be used through the Great War.

In another example of simple innovations at the arsenal, is what appears to be a heavy duty cane shown in the display case with the metal printing plates.  This big stick with a small leather loop was one employee's way to make life simpler.  Using this tool, a printing press operator could avoid smearing the fresh ink on the newly printed targets when removing them from the press.  This "target lifter" also likely prevented the operator's hands from being covered with ink.   Its inventor is unknown.

1885, Jewelry Department

We often associate the Rock Island Arsenal with military firearms, leather goods, and if you live in the area, you may even be aware that they currently produce armor for military HMMWVs (Humvees).  However, toward the end of the 19th century, "a Jewelry Department was added to the island to produce pins, badges, trophies, and insignia for saddle gear."  They would also electroplate items, repair saber scabbards & belts, and so on.  This lead to increased responsibilities for the arsenal in the ways of metalwork and soon the island was also tasked with making gun carriages, metal targets, horse equipment, siege carriages, caissons, forges, and eventually "gun tubes" (a.k.a. barrels).  The fabrication of artillery carriages remains to this day, an area of expertise of the Rock Island Arsenal.

The even made the boxes on the arsenal and the box liners

According to Thomas Slattery, author of An Illustrated History of the Rock Island Arsenal Island, "The RIA literally equipped the American soldiers who fought in the Spanish-American War."  He then mentioned a large number of items that when considered, would not be surprising if it were incomplete.  Not because Slattery's work is not thorough, but it simply would not be a shock to discover the arsenal made even MORE things since they seem to make everything else.  He lists: blanket bags, duffel bags, haversacks, canteens, their felt and thick duck covers, meat cans, plates, tin cups, utensils, bayonet scabbards, wooden saddle frames or saddle trees, rings, hooks, straps, carbine scabbards, saddle bags, saddles, stirrups, surcingles ("a girth that binds a saddle, pack, or blanket to the body of the horse), bridles, halters, artillery harnesses, picket pins, nose bags, horse brushes, curry combs, handgun holsters, spurs, saber belts, multiple carriage types, doors, door knobs, window frames, roof straps, pulleys, railings, iron trusses, iron columns, beams, staircases, stoves, desks, chairs, hinges, and more.

This article, even in its length, only covers SOME of the production of the RIA through the 19th century.  The museum also showed many of the items created by the arsenal during the 20th century and that's where things get really interesting for firearms collectors and people who like really big guns.  There's an "urban myth" of sorts in the Quad Cities, the metropolitan area that centers around the island.  It states that, due to the military production prowess of the arsenal, the Quad Cities was once very high on a list of potential bombing targets to be targeted by an opposing military force in a time of war.  The number or priority varies depending on who tells it, of course.  Some have the Quad Cities listed as the #7 location to be bombed, while others place it out of the top ten.  Nobody seems to know the source of such a dark piece of trivia, regardless of its accuracy.  The arsenal's Midwest location may have made such an attack a difficult task indeed, but you can find out in the second part of this article what the museum has on display that make this "urban myth" all too plausible.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Slattery, Thomas J., "An Illustrated History of the Rock Island Arsenal Island, Part Two" Historical Office, U.S. Army Armament, 1989

Display information at "An Arsenal of Innovation," Putnam Museum, Davenport, IA