The Rock Island Arsenal Museum was established in 1905 and is the second oldest museum operated by the US Army. The museum preserves and shares the history of the Rock Island Arsenal which was established in 1816 with the construction of Fort Armstrong.
Over the years, Rock Island has served as an arsenal, a place where military equipment and weapons were manufactured, and even a prison camp for captured Confederate soldiers. Comprised of 946 acres on the Mississippi River, Rock Island now serves as the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing center and arsenal.
The Rock Island Arsenal comprises 946 acres, located on Arsenal Island on the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. The island was originally established as a government site in 1816, with the building of Fort Armstrong. It is now the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States. It has manufactured military equipment and ordnance since the 1880s. On June 7, 1988, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Originally opened as an arsenal and a center for the manufacture of military goods, today it provides manufacturing, logistics, and base support services for the Armed Forces. The Arsenal is the only active U.S. Army foundry, some of the Arsenal's most successful products include the M198 and M119 towed howitzers, and the M1A1 gun mount. About 250 military personnel and 6,000 civilians work there. The 2000 census population was 145.
During the Civil War, Arsenal Island was the site of a large Union army prison camp. The island facilities were converted and built in 1863; they were not yet completed in December of that year when the first Confederate prisoners were brought in. The first prisoners were 468 Confederates captured in battles at Chattanooga, Tennessee. In its first month of operation, more than 5000 Confederate soldiers were incarcerated there. The prison camp was in operation from December 1863 until July 1865, at which point the prison facility was completely destroyed. During its two years in operation, the prison camp housed a total of more than 12,400 Confederates. After the war, the federal government retained ownership of Arsenal Island and developed it for use as an arsenal and ordinance manufacturing center, which led to its being renamed.
The Rock Island Arsenal Museum was established on July 4, 1905. It is the second-oldest US Army Museum in the US after the West Point Museum. The museum has been closed twice, during World War I and World War II, to provide more space for manufacturing facilities. The museum contains the second-largest collection of small arms weapons in the U.S. Army.