From its beginnings in 1794, the Armory depended on a network of suppliers and subcontractors to successfully complete its “mission” of providing the nation’s armed forces with the best shoulder arms the government could afford. In so doing, the growing Armory drew in resources locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. It attracted supporting industries to the region and, especially, to the Connecticut River Valley.
Gunsmiths require tools and specialized worksites. Starting in 1794,
iron and steel were procured as were black walnut planks for the
wooden musket stocks within which were mounted the flintlock, barrel,
and other minor pieces such as trigger, ramrod, and butt plate. Work
sites called for fuel, tools, and buildings. By 1812, most of these
things had been purchased and provided locally. Over the course of
the coming decades to the end of the Civil War in 1865, however,
the resource support network expanded as the Armory both grew and
exhausted some nearby sources of supply.
Among the many items listed in 1795 for the new Armory at Springfield were files (mostly made in Sheffield, England), anvils, iron (mostly from Salisbury, Connecticut), Sperm oil (from New Bedford), steel (mostly from England, Sweden, and Germany), walnut gun stock planks (from New England and Pennsylvania), grindstones, sea coal, charcoal, scissors, sand paper and emery powder (from England), and, for the first few years, large numbers of musket barrels, bayonets, ramrods, anvils, bellows, bench vices, musket stocks and lead from the U.S. government storage facility in Philadelphia. In addition, transportation and worker needs were supplied by purchasing saddles, straw, hay and oats for the horses as well as food, shoes, cloth and clothing for the workers. Increased quantities of lumber and brick as well as many carpenters, plasterers, and masons were brought locally to both the Hill Shops and the Water Shops for the nearly continuous construction and improvement of the factory buildings located there. Local men were also paid for transporting everything to and from the Armory and, in time, Hartford became the major transportation hub for the Armory as well as a banking center, rivaled by Springfield, through which flowed the funds needed to run the Armory.
The most complicated part of the musket, the flintlock mechanism, was manufactured from 1795 by the Armory’s skilled workers. Joined to barrels and walnut stocks, complete muskets were soon manufactured at the site. These flintlocks were, by 1799, stamped with the name SPRINGFIELD and the Federal eagle over the initials US. By the next year, most supplies were purchased through local merchants and tradesmen. By then, however, the Armory had serious competition from private manufacturers who made the same model musket under contract to the Federal government. Such musket contractors as Eli Whitney of New Haven, Connecticut, Asa Waters of Millbury, Massachusetts, and Lemuel Pomeroy of Pittsfield would, among many others in the region, become deeply and importantly linked to Springfield Armory for the first half of the 19th Century. They acted as innovators with Springfield Armory in the struggle to achieve interchangeability. From them and to them also flowed men, material, and ideas. By 1822, within the Armory worked one of the great inventors of the age, Thomas Blanchard, who created replicating machines that revolutionized the emerging American firearms and precision metal-shaping industries.
The 1830’s began to see American-made tools and supplies seriously compete with European dominance in fine steels and cutting tools such as files. British manufacturers successfully maintained their control of the market through a powerful combination of high quality and low prices until the 1860’s. American-made production machines, centered in New England, combined with the developing interchangeable manufacturing methods using gauges and jigs developing at Springfield Armory, came to dominate the machine field by the 1840’s to such an extent that the British were purchasing American production machines by the 1850’s.
Local sources of some raw materials for the Armory were exhausted in the decades of the early 19th Century. Even cord wood for wood heating fires, once abundant locally, was, by the 1840’s, available mostly by railroad only from the seaport of Boston as the landscape became stripped of most stands of suitable timber. Lumber for construction flowed down river in the spring from Vermont and New Hampshire. The same was true of stands of black walnut trees for gun stocks which were soon gone locally and, by the War of 1812, shipped in from Maryland and Pennsylvania with some from northern New England and New York. By the eve of the Civil War in 1860, walnut from Virginia was being supplied to Springfield Armory for weapons that were soon to be used in anger against the Confederacy.
For the entire period from the beginning of the Armory in 1795 through the Civil War, the Salisbury, Connecticut, area provided iron for muskets. By the 1820’s, however, with the expansion of settlement in the United States, iron foundries from New Hampshire and, increasingly, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, produced iron for the Armory. Charcoal, once the major fuel for Armory forges, remained a local New England resource that reached into southern New Hampshire by the 1820’s exploiting the remains of second growth timber. Sea coal, competing with charcoal from the first years of Armory production, was supplemented increasingly by mined coal deposits in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania starting in the 1820’s.
The same period of the 1820’s also witnessed the development of Troy, New York, just north of Albany, into a major manufacturing center of heavy machinery. The iron barrel rolling machines the Armory purchased from Troy manufacturers greatly speeded the production of muskets. By the late 1850’s, the Ames Company, of Chicopee, then a part of Springfield, Massachusetts, was providing the Armory with not only the latest British improved barrel rolling machines for all-steel barrels, but with improved Blanchard musket stock replicating machinery and large gun barrel turning lathes. From Troy, New York, also came the newest models of industrial steam engines in the 1830’s and 40’s. With these machines, production at the Water Shops was maintained during times of low water flow while enabling some powered production to be moved to the Hill Shops. Other important manufacturing machines, including the milling machine (1820’s), rifling machine (1840’s), and drop forge (1850’s), came directly to the Armory from government military weapons contractors up and down the Connecticut River Valley.