The Street That Beat Hitler: A Look at the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia
The Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia is one of the oldest and most significant munition production facilities in the United States. With another war with Britain looming on the horizon, Congress founded the Ordnance Department in 1812 to manufacture, distribute, repair, and store weapons and ammunition. One of their first responsibilities was continuing to establish a network of arsenal buildings across the country, and Philadelphia was a natural choice. Aside from its status as a major city that had recently been the nation’s capitol, Philadelphia’s river seaport was easily defended in wartime, had strong established trade ties and infrastructure, and was close to the Du Pont‘s black powder yards along the Brandywine River. Construction on the Frankford Arsenal on 20 acres of land began along the Bridesburg Channel in 1816 and continued until 1818, although more land and buildings would be continually added over the next century. The first permanent structure was the wharf, which was followed by “3 officer’s quarters, Arsenal, barracks, shops, storehouses, saddler’s shop, mess hall, and a kitchen” laid out around an open square for parades, according to the comprehensive Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) document that was the source for much of my research and a wealth of information for those wishing to delve deeper.
Three more acres and several more buildings were added in 1835-36, and in the 1840s the purpose of the arsenal expanded from storage and repair to include manufacturing percussion caps and compression machines with an output of 40,000 lead balls daily. In 1852 a dedicated percussion cap factory complete with its own boilers, lathes, finishing rooms, tin shop, and steam engines was built, and by 1857 the Frankford Arsenal manufactured “bags, boxes, tins cases, caps, milling machines, friction tubes” (HAER) as well as the machinery necessary to make ordnance. The Civil War saw the arsenal’s utility expand even further: fuses, muskets, and gages for the US Army were added to the production lines, as was a rolling mill to create brass and copper cartridge cases. By the 20th century it was a world leader in research and development in precision instruments, explosive bullets, targets, primers, and sights, and a significant contributor to the evolution of line manufacturing techniques.
Production predictably ramped up again for World War I, and World War II saw an enormous expansion at the Frankford Arsenal, which by that point employed 22,000 workers and manufactured all the ammunition for the government – a staggering nine million cartridges daily – until private companies began production. By the 1970s, however, the Frankford Arsenal was targeted for closure. After a fierce battle to keep it open, it ultimately closed in 1977. The campus was sold and a significant portion was demolished, although many historic buildings remain and quite a few have been successfully repurposed. Nevertheless, several remain vacant and serve as a reminder of the scale and might of what was once known as “the Street That Beat Hitler.”
Matthew Christopher PA Philadelphia Jun 23, 2023 Abandoned Places History War & Peace
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Matthew Christopher Jun 23, 2023
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