The Rock Island Arsenal Museum opened on July 4, 1905 as The Ordnance Museum at Rock Island Arsenal. It is the second oldest U.S. Army Museum, just behind the West Point Museum, which opened in 1854.
An International Collection
On October 1, 1903, Chief of Ordnance Major General William Crozier notified Rock Island Arsenal that fifteen boxes of ordnance materiel would shortly arrive “for the purpose of preserving it in a Military Museum to be established at the Rock Island Arsenal.”
The boxes included an array of weapons and accouterments from foreign countries that had been forwarded to the Office of the Chief of Ordnance for study. In correspondence to Colonel Blunt at Rock Island Arsenal, Major General Crozier directed that a “suitable building be selected as a museum to display this ordnance materiel for research and for the interest of the general public.”
Weapons Manufactured On-Site
A small arms plant for manufacturing the Model 1903 rifle was established at Rock Island Arsenal in 1904. Between 1904 and 1921, over 346,800 Model 1903 rifles were produced at the Arsenal. During World War II, the Arsenal manufactured more than 85,000 .30 caliber Browning Machine Guns of various models in Building 68.
1904 World’s Fair
Portions of the government display from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri were transported to the Rock Island Arsenal to be included in the new museum. The shipment included weapons confiscated during the Philippine Insurrection and taxidermy horses that were previously used for fitting harnesses in the Arsenal’s leather shop – a favorite of visitors today.
The museum was first housed in Shop A (Building 102 today). Just ten years after opening its doors, manufacturing space was needed to support the war effort during World War I, and the museum collection was placed in storage.
At the request of the local community, the museum reopened in its original location on July 4, 1919, and was given the title, The Rock Island Arsenal Museum. The museum’s focus remained on small arms and ordnance; however, aspects of Rock Island Arsenal history were included in the exhibits for the first time.
During World War II, the museum closed once more to the public. When it reopened in May of 1948, it was housed in Building 60, where it remains today.
The museum was renamed the John M. Browning Memorial Museum on November 4, 1959, in “recognition of Mr. Browning’s contributions to ordnance technology and the armed forces.” During this time, the museum became known for its arms collection, a diverse collection of foreign, US, military, and civilian weapons.
People, Processes, & Products
On July 1, 1986, the museum was renamed the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. The phrase “People, Processes, and Products” was coined to explain the important themes in the history of Rock Island Arsenal. While still known for its collection of small arms, the Museum refocused itself on the history of the island, its commands, and the products of the Arsenal.
Today, the Museum carries that legacy forward by focusing on the impact the Arsenal has made on the history of the U.S. military, the Quad Cities region, and its role in National Defense today