Small Arms Ammunition Museum: Where?


#1

By way of introduction, I am British, a resident of the US for over thirty years and an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in the Department of Architecture & Design (AIADO). For the past two years I have been working on a book about every aspect of America’s firearm/ammunition culture specifically for the community I work with - designers and academic cultural critics of all stripes. I have found that there is significant ambivalence towards 19-21st century firearm/ammunition scholarship in art & design academia and have decided to take on the task of untangling it, in order to show its dignity and considerable importance to the design field. I will be teaching a course at SAIC called ‘Guns: Myth & Manufacture’ this fall. My novice ammunition collection is about 100, with single examples of major types, not specializations within the categories.

One section of the book covers firearm museums and over the past eighteen months I have visited fifteen firearms museums at, West Point, Springfield Armory, Rock Island, Wadsworth Atheneum, MMA, NRA National, Davis, Cody, AIC Harding, Woolaroc, Autry, National Cowboy, Frasier, NRA Bass Pro as well as England’s Royal Armouries (Leeds), The Wallace Collection and the Australia War Memorial in Canberra. The remaining American museums to visit are the Smithsonian’s National Firearms Collection, John Browning Museum, S&W collections at the Springfield Wood Museum and S& W Factory and the Colt Firearms Mus. in Hartford, all of which I will visit this summer, save Browning. I am/have written a 5,000± word essay about each one.

During this tour of firearm museums I have been greatly surprised, actually dumbfounded, at how little there is on display on the history of ammunition and how few cartridges are exhibited with firearms. When I visited the Cody Firearms Museum, I made a tour of the Olin cartridge collection in storage, but very little was on display and certainly not curated, except for their strong collection of British and American cartridge boards.

From various sources, I have been told that the FBI Firearms/Toolmarks Unit at Quantico has an excellent semi-public collection, and I have just contacted them. Can anyone point me to any publicly accessible collections of ammunition?

Two much larger questions would be:

  1. Why is there not a Museum of Ammunition in the US?
  2. Are there current plans to create one?

One aside: yesterday I visited a firearms collector (not an ammunition collector) who had a single 1" x 4.5" rimfire Gatling cartridge with no head stamps. He did not know what it was. The bullet is sunk deep into the shell, its tip appearing only as a hemisphere. What would this be, and its age/value?

Thanks


#2

Ben, welcome to the forum, I hope that you find the answers you are looking for.

Regarding your last question, what you have seen is a nice 1’’ Gatling canister loading having an inside primed case with either bar or cup anvil, that houses a variable number of cal. .45 round balls nested below the top projectile (normally 15). It was made by Frankford Arsenal c. 1866-68.

Regards,

Fede


#3

Welcome, and I admire your interest and enthusiasm, and especially the bridging between the academic community and the firearms community, which often seem to exist on separate planets.

I would add to your list the excellent Frazier History Museum in Louisville, KY, a top tier institution with their top floor done in conjunction with Royal Amouries, Leeds. Get the audio gizmo to guide you through the galleries, it adds immensely to the enjoyment. Note that they have evolved from primarily a firearms museum to be “more inclusive of diverse interests.”

There is only one ammunition centric museum I know of, that is the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum in Hawthorne, Nevada. (Population 3,259.) It is focused on mainly U.S. artillery type ammunition, especially types related to the Hawthorne Ordnance Depot, and the former Naval Ammunition Depot Hawthorne. Closest city is Reno, NV, some 100 miles away. It is a labor of love run by volunteers, mainly former workers at the Depot, and most of their display items came from surplus (and scrap) sales from the Depot. While the collection is vast and varied, and a delight for folks who know what they are looking at, I am afraid the general public finds the lack of signage discouraging. But, it is absolutely the most interesting stopping place for 75 or more miles in any direction!

The Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach, FL may or may not have much in the way of ammunition.
The Army Ordnance Museum used to have some, but it has been years since I visited and they been closed and remaining artifacts shipped off to storage pending construction of a new facility somewhere, someday by someone.
The NRA Museum at Raton, NM, reportedly does have a small cartridge collection on display.

To your questions:

  1. Why is there not a Museum of Ammunition in the US?
  2. Are there current plans to create one?

There is a very simple answer. Money. More specifically the lack of money. Museums, unless they have some private benefactor, or business supporting them must get their funding from visitor admissions, grants, donations, or subsidies from local, state or federal institutions. No one seems to think enough people care to go look at ammunition to write the checks to build a facility for such a museum, let alone pay for a staff, utilities, upkeep, insurance and other expenses associated with a museum operation. While every member of the IAA might love to go to an ammunition museum a couple of times a year, the line of other visitors who could be dragged kicking and screaming into one would likely be very short. No visitors will guarantee no funding.

The IAA Board at one time discussed involvement in setting up an ammunition museum, but the idea was dropped as impractical.

Some possible solutions to make “ammunition” exciting and appealing might include:
a. Connections with local history (inventors, ammunition plants, etc)
b. Emphasis on the physics problems of ammunition, the technology involved in manufacture, test and firing
c. Positive aspects of ammunition- saving lives from criminal attacks, defending freedom, etc (as opposed to “killing babies and innocent animals”) and the use in sporting competition including the Olympics.
d. Connections between ammunition and other advancements in science and technology.
e. There are some artistic aspects- slow motion photography of bullets blowing up apples, the symmetry of ammo stockpiles, etc that might have some artistic appeal, properly presented, but alas, are more likely to be demonized as “toys of the devil” never to be shown in polite society.

Anyone can chime in to say it is a wonderful idea and we need an ammo museum. If you do, please make sure to bring your checkbook and be prepared to lead by example.

Not every good idea is a commercial success, or will be a winner in the competition for scarce charitable donations or government funds.
Let’s see, here are requests from the Cancer Hospital, the animal shelter, home for unwed mothers, the orphanage, and the ammo museum---- which ones will be supported?

I would be interested in seeing your museum reviews, if they are posted somewhere.


#4

I wonder where my posting from 30 minutes ago has gone.

Here in short:

There is a museum being built right now in Florida. The aim is at explsoive ordnance and EOD, there shall be some SAA too but it will not be the main focus.
And as you figured from the posting above it is a private venture with some official involvement and items on loan from the US military.
So far I have no data on the status and a possible official opening of the place. So we need to watch out.


#5

Face it guys. There is no polite way to say this but, in the real world, cartridge collecting is small potatoes when compared with other hobbies in general and collecting hobbies in particular.

Ray


#6

Actually there is a museum in Tuscon Arizona only it isn’t named a museum but called a laboratory. It specializes in world-wide military and police ammunition. Starting at 1885 & now under or at 30mm. I believe now running into some 250,000 rounds, encompassing some 8000 case types.

Open only by appointment.

Whittington Center at Raton NM has somewhat of a museum as a gentleman named Robert Rowe donated his collection to them. However Bob was not the best when identifying some of his collection and the folks at Raton went with his names for the wood display they installed.

There are a number of cartridge collectors around the USA & I think most would welcome a visit from another collector, advanced or not.

For as long as I can remember collectors of gun and ammunition are two different worlds. Gun writers approach ammunition only to say the 180 gr load is more accurate than the 200 grain load, but this 6 screw receiver was only made for 6 months & is so much rarer than the 5 screw receiver & then go on in great detail to say what was wrong or right with both or either.

Cartridge collectors / historians approach not from which is more accurate, but who made it and the five W’s. Which is the same approach as firearms historians, but museums. A problem with museums as I see it is in almost any display they have limited space & can only perhaps give the name & date of the gun, & not much more.

One museum I visited had a rimfire box displayed with the top off. The box was a Winchester box with a Winchester firearm, but the contents had “U” headstamps, obviously Union Metallic Cartridge Co. product but unnoticed by any at the museum until it was pointed out to them & then I was the bad guy, The shoot the messenger mentality was then in effect.

The point of this ramble is gun guys (for the most part) only care if it fits the gun & not to take away from them, firearms are an equally deep subject to study, but the ammunition study is where they usually stop.

Although I do have to admit some few authors today are becoming more involved in the ammunition used, who made it and the history of it.

Time to stop.


#7

Another way of looking at this, ammunition is to firearms what gasoline is to vehicles. There are numerous car museums, but little to nothing in the way of gasoline museums. While everyone is enamored with firearms from a historical perspective, ammo is just the fuel that runs them. Same could be said for, say, a museum dedicated to firearms lubricants.

Wish it weren’t true, but that’s pretty much it.


#8

When I were a lad my local museum, the excellent National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh had cases of stuff, big wooded display cases with glass tops, chock full of things like a thousand arrow heads. There were so many arrow heads that the mind refused to take in what the eye was seeing.

Last time I visited there were still the same display cases but with a dozen arrow heads, each with a well written notice explaining the place of each one in the evolution of the arrow head.

One of the problems with displaying anything is that you have to be fierce in pruning what’s put on show, otherwise the general visitor will just walk on past. This is good for the public but frustrating for the ammunition collector who wants to see lots of variations and variety but let’s face it …

… there are lots of the public and only a few of us, so guess who wins.

Peter


#9

Is there any particular reason why much of your research cannot be performed in the digital or printed media world, or is there some specific information you seek which requires a more hands-on approach? And just what ammunition types are of most interest to you, i.e, handgun, shotgun, rifle, artillery, etc.? There are many books available covering almost every type of ammunition in considerable detail, some very well illustrated. Not too much is available (at least that I am aware of) regarding the technology of modern small arms ammunition manufacture, but I do know of one book, which is entitled “Ammunition Making” by George E. Frost. It has been out of print for some time, but probably is still available.