From the American Revolution to Vietnam, the Federal Armory at Springfield served as the principal U.S. Government site for the manufacture and storage of small arms. The Armory invented many cutting edge technologies and industrial processes that made the modern world possible. The world’s first successful system of interchangeable parts, fed by a sophisticated web of suppliers, came to be known as the American System of Manufacturing.
The Forge of Innovation program at Emerging America helps teachers, students, and the public to examine America’s rise from colonial backwater to global power by examining the Armory in comparison with three other models of industrialization:
- The Springfield Armory (1777-1968). A hugely successful government-driven model of innovation and precision manufacturing in difficult-to-work metals,
- Springfield Manufacturing (1786-). Here and across the nation, merchants and local investors launched thousands of factories for textiles, paper, and a multitude of goods. In the Connecticut River Valley, former armory workers invented whole new industries in cutlery, sewing machines, bicycles, automobiles, and machine tools.
- The Northampton Association of Education and Industry (NAEI) (1842-1846). This distinctive utopian community engaged Abolitionists (including Sojourner Truth) in making silk, as alternative to slave-grown cotton. The short-lived experiment contrasts with more successful capitalist businesses, yet left an enduring political and economic legacy.
- Holyoke Planned City (1849-). Large investors from Eastern Massachusetts dammed the Connecticut River and built the new city of Holyoke along a vast system of company-owned canals–much as in Lowell–to make paper and textiles, still providing hydroelectric power to firms today.
How did the Federal Armory system differ from other strategies for industrial development? How did competition and government subsidies affect results? How did ideology affect industrial development? What did each strategy contribute to economic and cultural vitality? How did immigrants, blacks, and women fare? What factors contributed to the decline of manufacturing in the area? What lessons might inform the future?
Explore online exhibits. Access hundreds of primary source images, oral histories, and documents from the Armory, Library of Congress, and other archives. Access a wealth of exemplary lesson plans, primary source sets, and other teaching materials.
In the Summer of 2015, 70 teachers from across the U.S. gathered for a week of study of the Armory supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops. This website offers free exhibits and resources on this uniquely American story of invention and perseverance.