1. West Point Museum, Small Arms Gallery, West Point, NY 1703 guns, 303 on display (18%). Established in 1854

West Point Museum, Small Arms Gallery Exterior
West Point Museum, Small Arms Gallery Case


The oldest American firearm museums are associated with the military, where firearms could be studied by designers and soldiers alike. The West Point Museum is within the U.S. Army’s Enterprise system of one hundred and five museums. Because West Point is the country’s premier military academy, it is curated by museum professionals who have made smart and economical choices of the guns shown, and the wall texts are finely written. Firearms are displayed in two ways: in the context of military artifacts in the main galleries and in the Small Arms Gallery that focuses solely on weaponry.

Guns with strategic or personal histories are displayed throughout the museum’s excellent exhibits of military history and its personalities. The themed ‘Surrender’ case has Herman Goering’s .38 Smith & Wesson and Hitler’s Lilliput.

The Small Arms Gallery gives a near perfect tour through the history of small arms, including everything from Neolithic stone clubs to the U.S. Army’s current side arm, the M9 (Beretta 92 SB-F). Fourteen cases of firearm actions include: Hand Cannon, Matchlock, Wheel Lock, Snaphaunce, Miquelet & Flintlock, Percussion, Breech Loaders, Early Repeaters, Bolt Action, Self-Loading Rifles, Assault Rifles, Submachine Guns, Light Machine Guns, Pistols, and Cartridges and present clear drawings of how each type works. Highlights include the 1776 Ferguson Breechloading Rifle and a Springfield 1903 rifle fitted with a Pedersen device.

The museum is home to the John T. Pitman Collection of ammunition, including some of his notes. On display is a small but excellent exhibit of the history of cartridge design and a close-up display of the Winchester ‘W’ cartridge board.

With 1/6th of the collection on display, the museum has a substantial number of historic firearms and ammunition in storage. The curatorial stance of the Small Arms Gallery is periodically updated, but generally weapons from the most recent conflicts are absent.

United States Military Academy