Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry

Bird’s eye view of Holyoke, Massachusetts, 1877
Bird’s eye view of Holyoke, Massachusetts, 1877. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The U.S. Armory at Springfield first brought the tantalizing power of interchangeable parts to reality in the 1840s. In consequence, the Connecticut River Valley became the hub of innovation in precision manufacturing. At the start of the Civil War, the Armory and its network of suppliers rapidly boosted production of muskets from 3,000 per month to 30,000. In the decades following the war, former armory machinists and contractors launched private industries in small arms, moving on to cutlery, sewing machines, bicycles, autos, motorcycles, and aircraft, as well as myriad consumer goods from ice skates to toothbrushes.

In 2015, the Armory served as an ideal venue for investigating industrialization and the related social, economic, and political impacts on American society.

Teacher-created resources for the classroom

Emerging America (see below) hosted 69 teachers from 17 states for a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop, Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry. Six-day programs each explored the role of the Federal Armory in America’s rise from agrarian colony to global superpower. Teacher teams and scholars studied industrial innovation and its impacts, capturing their ideas in engaging lesson plans.

A sampling of the best lessons from 2015 are available for free on the project website:

  • Unexpected Connections: Using Local Primary Sources to Analyze the Five Factors of Community Development in World History
  • Mapping Springfield’s Industrial Growth
  • Technological Innovation and Change in the Connecticut River Valley in the Antebellum Era
  • WWI on the Homefront: Women in the Workplace

Educators and students can also tap into Forge of Innovation resources for more free classroom activities, primary source documents, and opportunities for instruction, research, and discussion on American industrialization. Online exhibits include:

  • Forge of Innovation —website produced by Springfield Armory National Historic Site
  • Steamboat Barnet: Transportation Revolution
  • Abolitionist Utopian Community: Northampton Association of Education and Industry
  • Holyoke, Massachusetts: A Planned Industrial City

About Emerging America 

Emerging America courses and workshops support K-12 educators as they engage students in inquiry through use of primary sources. EmergingAmerica.org offers exemplary lesson plans, tools, and materials. A program of the Collaborative for Educational Services, Emerging America brings decades of experience teaching diverse learners, including English language learners, special education students, court-involved youth, and low-income rural and urban youth. Since 2010, Emerging America has featured the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Collaborative. 

*Rich Cairn is the director of the Emerging America program. Karen Albano is Emerging America’s project manager.

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