Purpose of Frankford Arsenal primers

I have been collecting vintage primers for a while now and have acquired some Frankford Arsenal boxes of both “.30 Caliber” and “.45 Caliber” primers packages. As shown in the picture.

My question is: Did FA ship primers to different loading facilities for Military use or was this packaging sold to the civilian market? Just trying to get an idea of the purpose.


Various reloading components were sold to NRA members through the old Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) program for many years. I do not have the exact items or dates for each, but there must be copies of old DCM sales lists which would tell us more.

Perhaps surplussed out ? Only other thing I can think of.

Perhaps out in left field, but the Government use to run live testing on components like this. In the Air Force CAD (cartridge actuated devices)/PAD (precussion (I think) actuated devices) which were things like the actuator cartridges in bomb racks, ejection seats, fire bottle initiators, etc, Every time we bought a lot, part of the active devices, initiators, etc were put in storage to validate their service life. Each year some of each lot were withdrawn to see if they still worked. Lots of statistics here on how many had to be tested a year. Many of these things had 5 year or 10 year lives or maybe more. The testing was to make sure they would last.

I know (rather was told) that similar things were done with ammunition. It is conceivable that these were life validation specimens. When their service life had expired, they may have withdrawn them and sold them or whatever.

This is just speculation.


J.R. Mattern’s handloading book was published in 1926 and in it he mentions ammunition and loading components being supplied to NRA members by the government in such a way it could be assumed those sales had been policy for some years even then. Jack

The DCM published monthly lists and/or ads detailing the supplies available to NRA members, a practice that lasted until 1941, when these were temporarily cut off. Below you can see an example of the ammunition components listed in July of 1932.

Regarding the non-mercuric No. 27 primers, as far as I can tell these were first listed in February 1946, when the activity of the DCM was re-established. However, this offering did not lasted too long because already in June of the same year DCM published a note saying: “Ammunition components are not being manufactured by government arsenals and depot stocks are depleted. No further orders can be accepted”. Sale of components was not restored until mid to late 1947.

I have a hand made, wooden shooter’s and reloader’s box w/ reloading tools, ammunition components and loading notes dated 1934. Among it’s contents are cardboard boxes of loose packed, .30 caliber, spire point, boat tail, copper jacketed bullets mailed from: “National Rifle Association, Barr Building, Washington, D.C.” There is a larger, book-shaped cardboard box (used for storage, original contents unknown) mailed from “NRA SERVICE COMPANY, (INCORPORATED), Supply Base, Barr Building, Washington, D.C.” Interestingly,(at least to me!), the original recipient’s home address was “Mounted Route #7, Elwood City, Penna.” Apparently, the boxes were delivered on horseback, or more likely, on a mule! There is also a round tin w/screw top containing 500 large copper primers. Fragments of the original label remain. I can make out on the top “500 CARTRIDGE-PRIMERS” and on the bottom “Manufactured at FRANKFORD ARSENAL” as well as “suitable for black powder”, "is used for all Cal. .45 and shot " and “Cal. .30 Gallery”. The Frankford Arsenal label completely encircles the tin. There is no evidence of an NRA overlabel, so I’m guessing that the tin was further packaged somehow prior to shipping.

I vaguely recall reading or hearing that orders from NRA members were sent to the NRA headquarters for processing (confirmation of membership, etc) and I believe then sent on to the appropriate Army depot for actual shipment, perhaps with a label provided by the NRA. The NRA would then consolidate payments periodically and remit the balance to the Army. This greatly simplified the accounting and bookkeeping for the Army.

The Army had some other programs which authorized sales of arms, and presumably ammunition or components as well, to inventors and a few other classes of eligible persons (including some high government officials?).

The NRA Service Company, Inc. was unrelated to the DCM and the ammunition purchased from them was stricly commercial. It was created with the purpose of selling shooting supplies to the NRA members, but only lasted between 1927 and 1935-36.

When my father and I were shooting 30 caliber competition in the 50’s to the 80’s we ordered 4895 powder through the DCM in 150 pound containers. The containers were copper and inside heavy wooden crates and were shipped from the Sierra ordnance depot at Herlong CA. If I remember correctly the price was $1.50 per pound and shipped by truck. Primers could be purchased also but they were FA70 corrosive. I believe there were several ordnance depots the powder was shipped from depending on what state you lived in. Think the surplus powder was depleted by the early 60’s.

Awesome info! Thank you everyone for the input.


The Frankford Arsenal tins containing 500 primers; a couple of variations shown below…


On Guy Hildebrand’s website, he shows a nice photo of the black powder primer tin, as well as the primer itself (sectioned & complete) and accompanies a great description aswell.http://www.oldammo.com/october05.htm


EDIT TO ADD: A high quality PDF can be viewed here for Gills patent: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US220472.pdf

Two smaller 2" dia. FA tins green label dated 1888, & tan notes “FOILED” Aug 2, 1892.

Several variations of the larger 23/4" dia. tins Randy has illustrated & Dave also noted. With the bottom one (52 grains) showing a 1910 date stamp.

Wow, nice variations Pete! I especially like the earlier examples that you show of the 2" tins. Nice photos, thank you!

Note “.45ACP Primers” only…because for many years, .45ACP by FA was a .204" Primer. (Not the normal LP, .210")

Also, FA, in the late 1800s and before WW I, supplied reloading components for NG and Reg. Army Depots, which regularly reloaded Gallery ammo for Training. Then ion the post WW I era, this dropped off to almost Nil, and the DCM/NRA marketing increased.
Pyro DG: early M1906 Powder;
IMR 1185: The Powder for the US .30 M1 (FMJBT) Cartridge. But not suitable for Garands, and IMR4985 replaced it in the M2 Cartridge.

Interesting Price list and other details. Part of Cartridge History.

Doc AV