6. Rock Island Arsenal Museum, Rock Island, IL 1,790 guns, 1,202 on display (67%). Established in 1905

Rock Island Arsenal Museum Exterior
Rock Island Arsenal Museum Case


The Museum is overseen by the U.S. Army, and is located on the active army base of the Rock Island Arsenal. Over the past 110 years it has made everything from tanks, rifles and targets. The primary mission of the museum tells the history of the Arsenal’s ‘People, Processes and Products’; the extensive small-arms collection is the secondary focus. Like the Springfield Armory, it was a military reference collection with a wide range of domestic and foreign firearms, acquired to study their design and operation. The RIA was the collection point for captured firearms in America’s nineteenth century continental wars and includes rare examples of firearms used and decorated by American Indians.

1,200 firearms are displayed in a very large glass-fronted ‘aquarium’ cabinet. Set four feet back from the glass, the firearms are supported on a wood-paneled wall in long rows, with each gun given a number. Bound file-folders are laid out on tables in front of the display, filled with Xeroxed sheets detailing the provenance of each gun, using the U.S. Army’s meticulous cataloging system. The open floor of the museum has wheeled guns, small arms and accessories made at the arsenal over the years.

Among the highlights of the collection are four rifles used by Sioux or Cheyenne warriors at the Battle of Little Big Horn, including an 1873 Winchester rifle. The museum has the very first Springfield 1903 rifle, marked with serial number ‘1’ and also has the M1 Garand rifle, serial number ‘2’. The only known ‘Flapper Rifle’ prototype machinegun invented by John Moses Browning was recently discovered in storage and is now in the Browning Museum, Ogden.

The museum works well, but its 1970’s vintage neon light and wood paneled display is ready for reworking. The no-nonsense U.S. Army display is refreshingly candid and the lack of computer cataloging and exuberant graphics is a relief…kind of.

Descriptive Catalogue of the Ordnance Museum, Rock Island Arsenal: Rock Island, Illinois, Rock Island, (1909).
(John M. Browning Memorial Museum)