When the Springfield Armory opened in 1795, the manufacturing of flintlock muskets was modeled after a European pattern with a division of labor into specialized functions such as stock makers, lock makers, or barrel forgers [i.e., the creation of the whole musket by incorporating the ‘lock, stock, and barrel’]. This was also the pattern among private manufacturers and contractors. In 1815, once the War of 1812 ended, the structure of labor at the Armory began to change. Starting that year, the Ordnance Department committed itself to the development and production of fully interchangeable muskets. To do this, a vigorous artillery officer, Col. Roswell Lee, was hired as superintendent at Springfield Armory. And it was he more than any other individual who most consistently realized this goal. He proposed what became the key: the use of precision gauges to monitor the correct fit of the muskets’ component parts at all stages of production, and the close exchange of men, machinery, and raw materials. Soon, Springfield Armory emerged as the leading metalworking center and clearinghouse for technical information.
For the Armory worker, 1819 was a year of abrupt transition. The use of precision gauges replaced the earlier system of replicating master copies of firearms, known as pattern firearms. According to Pay Roll documents, workers were no longer referred to as ‘Armourers’ and paid by the day, but were described by and paid for the number of individual musket parts they manufactured. The work environment included greater accountability and incentives to increase individual production of parts. All this occurred at a time when Armory workers found their pay reduced for a number of years by an increasingly tight-fisted national government suffering from a post-war economic depression. The result was that many skilled workers began to leave Armory employment for other new industries such as cotton mills.
The successful introduction of labor-saving machinery in the 1820’s that advanced the achievement of interchangeable production further altered the working environment. Skilled “Armourers” increasingly lost control of the pace and quality of their work. Instead, production machinery determined the rate that raw materials could be processed into semi-finished components. These components were, in turn, finished and assembled by lesser-skilled craftsmen. Additionally, the Armory increasingly began to resemble a machine, as workers were required to begin and end their labors at a specific time. When periodic reductions in the numbers of workers were required, those workers who were also farmers became the first to go. Eventually, Armory workers found successful redress of their grievances for improved working condition and pay through organized “petitions” to management. After the Ordnance Department replaced the civilian leadership of the Armory in 1842, Armory workers found their labor increasingly regimented. Workers, however, prospered and the Armory became a much sought-after place to earn a living.