Everyone knows about the famous Springfield ’03. From collectors to service rifle shooters to every 1950s deer camp uncle with a sporterised rifle. But do you know all ‘03s are not Springfields? The M1903 rifle was the primary U.S military rifle from 1903 through 1936 and remained in use in the early days of World War II. Nearly 1.2 million M1903 rifles were manufactured at Springfield Armory. Rock Island Arsenal also produced M1903 rifles during two production periods, 1904 through 1913 and 1918 through 1919, manufacturing a total of over 350,000 rifles. The exact quantity is unknown due to record keeping errors.
Excerpt from Rock Island Rifle Model 1903 by C.S. Ferris:
By Scott A. Duff
In over 207 years since the birth of the Federal Armory system in 1794, only three Federal facilities have manufactured new firearms: Springfield Armory, Harpers Ferry Armory, and Rock Island Arsenal.
Congress authorized the founding of Springfield Armory, located in Springfield, Massachusetts, in April 1794. There were existing buildings on top of the hill overlooking the city of Springfield that had been used for the storage of arms during the Revolution. It was in those buildings that the first repair activities of the new Armory began. It is believed that the first new arms were manufactured at Springfield Armory 1795, but this cannot be proven with certainty. The Arsenal at Springfield was the fountainhead from which much of America’s military small arms development stemmed between its founding in 1794 and closing in 1968. During its 174-year history, a wide array of small arms was conceived, perfected, and manufactured at the Armory, including: flintlock muskets, percussion muskets, rifle-muskets, “trapdoors,” Krags, M1903s, M1s, M14s, single-shot muzzle-loading pistols, and M1911 pistols. In all, Springfield Armory produced more than 8,300,000 firearms.
In July 1862, Congress authorized the establishment of Rock Island Arsenal on an island in the Mississippi River. Initially, Rock Island served to house Civil War prisoners. Following the end of the Civil War, Rock Island Arsenal began production of a wide range of military equipment. Between 1865 and 1919, Rock Island Arsenal produced a wide variety of military equipment, including: field carriages and limbers, horse and man related cavalry equipment, haversacks, canteens, mess gear, cartridge boxes, cartridge belts, bayonets and scabbards, and rifle slings. They also engaged in the overhaul and repair of rifles, carbines, and revolvers. However, Rock Island produced no new firearms until 1904. In June 1903, the Ordnance Department instructed Rock Island Arsenal to produce, along with Springfield Amory, the newly adopted Model 1903 rifle. This was to be their first and only new production of an infantry small arm. Rock Island Arsenal manufactured new Model 1903 rifles during two production periods, 1904 to 1913 and 1917 to 1919. In all, it is believed that they produced over 400,000 M1903 rifles.
Due to Springfield Armory’s long history and wide variety of firearms produced, it is common for U.S. Martial Arms collectors to focus on collecting Springfield produced arms. Many collectors also seek firearms produced by Harpers Ferry Armory. In addition, knowingly or unknowingly, many collectors have added ancillary items produced by Rock Island Arsenal such as cartridge boxes, rifle slings, bayonets and scabbards to their collections. However, few collectors seem to focus on the Rock Island Rifle, Model 1903. It is my opinion that to compile a complete collection of firearms that depict the whole U.S. Martial Arms story, one must have a Rock Island Model 1903. But many collections are missing an example.
This may be caused by two factors. One is the scarcity of original examples of Rock Island ‘03s. The other is that most ‘03 related books barely touch on the Rock Island Rifle Model 1903 story. Nick Ferris, through his first book, The Rock Island ’03, published in 1992, did much to further our knowledge of the this most interesting ’03 variant. This newly written and expanded book, Rock Island Rifle Model 1903, will further expand our knowledge.
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