Rock Island Arsenal, IL Image 1
    Rock Island Arsenal, IL Image 2

    Rock Island Arsenal, IL History

    Rock Island Arsenal was established in 1816 when Fort Armstrong was built. The land had been set aside by Congress since 1809 as a federal military reservation and did not become an actual arsenal until its first Commanding Officer Major Charles P. Kingsbury designed and built 3 buildings there in 1862. Under Kingsbury, however, the only building finished by 1867 was the Clock Tower.

    The second Commanding Officer Brevet Brigadier General Thomas J. Rodman further expanded the arsenal during his time there from 1865-1871. His additions included 5 buildings called "arsenal row" for the manufacture and overhaul of general ordnance, and for the manufacture and overhaul of small arms, another 5 buildings in "armory row". He also constructed personal living quarters known as Quarters 1, in a 20,000 square foot, 50-room, Italian villa-style building. Quarters 1 is the second largest single-family government residence only dwarfed by the White House.

    From 1863-1865, over 12,000 Confederate prisoners were kept in the Rock Island Prison Barracks. This was one of only 21 prison camps run by the Union. Also in 1863, the Rock Island National Cemetery was established for the burial of Union prison guards. A 70-acre complex with over 23,000 grave markers makes this one of the 20 oldest cemeteries in the nation.

    In 1902, over 16,000 sets of cavalry equipment and 53,000 sets of infantry equipment were shipped to the Manila Ordnance Depot to support U.S. troops still fighting in the Philippines. World War I saw the arsenal load nearly 200,000 155mm howitzer shells, the only time ammunition would be produced here.

    During World War II, the focus for Rock Island became artillery production. About 600 artillery cartridges were made each month and throughout the entirety of the war, nearly 85,000 Model 1917A1, Model 1919A4, and Model 1919A5 .30 caliber machine guns were produced. The Korean War was supplied with the "superbazooka", a 3.5mm rocket launcher produced at Rock Island.

    In 1962, the Rossford Army Depot of Ohio tool and equipment distribution mission was transferred to Rock Island, meaning the arsenal would be stocking over 65,000 different items. Then in 1967, the Springfield Armory of Massachusetts small arms mission was also transferred here. In addition to manufacturing, Rock Island became involved with the product engineering and research and development of small arms. During the Vietnam War, the M102 105mm lightweight howitzer was developed at Rock Island.

    All manufacturing steps were unified under the roof of the Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center during the 1980s. This complex contains the DoD's only forge, foundry, and plating shop. Today, the arsenal is the only Army facility that assembles tool sets and kits for field support equipment.