This is a mint condition, museum quality and all original, early Model 1903 Rifle manufactured by Rock Island Arsenal in 1912.
The Model 1903 Service Rifle was officially adopted on June 19, 1903 and it was initially chambered for the .30-03 round and had an internally-stored rod bayonet, similar to the rod bayonet design used on the Model 1884 Trapdoor Rifle. When the design was finalized, the Ordnance Department ordered both national armories, Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal to begin preparing for production. Springfield was given an initial production quota of 400 rifles per day and Rock Island a quota of 125 rifles per day. Both armories began to tool up for Model 1903 production with Springfield Armory considerably ahead of Rock Island. At the beginning of 1904, Springfield was producing up to 300 rifles per day. By mid-summer in 1904, Springfield had already produced about 30,000 of the Model 1903 "rod bayonet" rifles and had already equipped the US Military Academy Corps of Cadets with the new rifle. At the same point, Rock Island had yet to manufacture a complete Model 1903 Rifle. The delays at Rock Island were understandable considering that Rock Island had not manufactured any small arms up to that point. From the end of the Civil War until tasked to produce the 1903 Rifle, Rock Island had been primarily involved in the manufacture of various infantry and cavalry equipment, including saddles, harnesses, slings, ammunition pouches, holsters, gun carriages, caissons and eating utensils. The Arsenal also stored equipment and refurbished small arms but had yet to tackle small arms production until the call came in 1903.
Initially, Rock Island began producing parts for the new Model 1903 Rifle on May 4, 1904 but did not assemble completed rifles. The first completed rifle, Rock Island serial number 1, had its receiver made on November 21, 1904, was completed as a rifle on December 20, 1904, and bears a final inspection cartouche date of 1905. This was not an issue rifle, however, but was manufactured for the new Rock Island Arsenal Museum. At the same time as this museum rifle was assembled at Rock Island, Springfield had already completed assembly on 65,752 Model 1903 Rifles. Shortly after Rock Island Model 1903 Rifle serial number 1 was completed (Rock Island did not complete assembly of any issue weapons as far as is known), an off-hand comment by the president of the United States would radically change the rifle's design. On January 4, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt was shown the new Model 1903 Rifle and he commented, “I must say that I think that ramrod bayonet is about as poor an invention as I ever saw." Nothing more by the president needed to be said on the subject and the Secretary of War ordered that production of all rod bayonet related parts cease on January 11, 1905.
In a way, Rock Island's slow start to 1903 production was fortuitous because all of the rod bayonet rifles manufactured by Springfield would have to be altered. In addition, the cocking piece and safety was redesigned, the rear sight was changed to a design similar to the earlier Krag Model 1901 Rear Sight, the Stock was redesigned to accept a new upper band that had an integrally mounted bayonet lug, and the handguard was changed to incorporate a "hump" that would serve to protect the rear sight. These changes, when made, became what are known as the 1905 Modifications to the 1903 Rifle. The first production Rock Island Model 1903 to incorporate these changes was serial number 49628. This rifle has a January 1906 dated Rock Island barrel and it was assembled in May 1906 and immediately taken to the Rock Island Museum. Another change would soon take place, however, that would set back 1903 production even further.
The U.S. Army at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century was enamored with European firearms and weapons technology. Of particular interest to Army Ordnance officers was the new German pointed "spitzer" bullet that had a pointed tip and slightly boat-tailed base. The Ordnance Department began to conduct tests on a new rifle cartridge based on this German design and the result was the .30 caliber cartridge adopted by the Ordnance Department on October 15, 1906. This cartridge became known as the 1906 .30 Caliber Cartridge or, simply, the .30-06.
Since the new .30-06 Cartridge was the new standard rifle cartridge, orders were soon sent to both Springfield and Rock Island to alter all existing Model 1903 Rifles chambered for the .30-03 to the new .30-06 round. This was another substantial alteration that involved re-chambering the barrel to accommodate the .30-06 round, shortening the barrel 0.2", shortening the stock and handguard by 0.2" and developing a new rear sight leaf that was properly graduated for the new ballistics of the .30-06 round. This series of changes became what is known as the 1906 Alterations. While Rock Island began implementing the 1906 Alterations to existing sets of rifle parts and the limited number of rifles produced with the 1905 Modifications, the Ordnance Department still had to determine the correct ballistics tables for the new .30-06 round, develop, test and then finalize the new rear sight. The new Rear Sight design with correct .30-06 graduations, was not provided to Rock Island until November 1907, so it was not until early 1908 that most of the new Rock Island 1906 Alteration Rifles began to be fully assembled and proofed. Most Rock Island 1903 Rifles above serial number 88,000 are generally considered to be new production rifles with the 1905 and 1906 changes already incorporated and contain no altered parts.
This particular Rock Island 1903 is serial number 220881, which was manufactured in mid- to late-1912. Rock Island manufactured less than 20,000 rifles that year. The Receiver is in fine condition, retaining the majority of its dark, oil-hardened finish throughout with minor storage wear on the sharp edges and wear over the chamber. The Rock Island and nomenclature stamping is the correct serif letters and the serial number is the correct, larger type, all of which are still crisply stamped. The bolt stop mechanism is present and retains the majority of its blued finish. The Magazine Cutoff is the correct, early type with serif "ON" and "OFF" stamps. The “ON” side is correctly polished to the white and the “OFF” side still exhibits the majority of the original case-hardened finish. The Trigger is the correct second type with the ridged and serrated Trigger face. The Trigger retains 98% of its blued finish with a wear line at the Trigger Guard line. The Sear is the correct unmarked type without the weep hole that retains 98% of the blued finish. The Sear Pin retains the majority of its blued finish on both exposed sides.
The original Rock Island Barrel is in mint, virtually unfired condition and retains 99% plus of its original blued finish. The top, front of the Barrel, just to the rear of the Front Sight, is crisply stamped with "R.I.A./[Ordnance Bomb]/10-12." The bottom, front of the Barrel, just behind the Front Sight Base, is stamped with serif heat lot number "K5/P" over a Rockwell Hardness Test punch mark The bore has a mirror finish along it its length. The original crown is present. The barrel measures at around “0” at the muzzle so this rifle was rarely if ever fired after proof testing.
The original Front Sight Base retains 95% of its blued finish with wear on the sides from the cover. The bottom of the Front Sight Base has a serif "B" assembly stamp. The Front Sight retains 98% of its original blued finish. The Front Sight Post also retains the majority of its original blued finish. The original single slot, flat head Front Sight Screw is present and the slot is unmarred. The front sight is correctly staked to the front sight base at the front. The front sight is protected by an original and correctly unmarked Front Sight Protector. The protector retains 90% of its original blued finish with wear pronounced on the top, rounded portion.
The Lower Barrel Band is the correct milled type with serif "U" stamp used by Rock Island on the right side. The Lower Band retains 98% of its blued finish that has retained its original blue color with storage wear on the edges. The Upper Sling Swivel is the milled, split shank type and it retains 98% of its blued finish. The Lower Band Screw has the single slot with rounded head and it retains 98% of its blued finish with an unmarred slot. The Band Spring, inletted into the right side of the Stock just forward of the Lower Band retains 95% of its blued finish.
The Upper Barrel Band is the correct milled type without the "H" hardness stamp on the bottom of the bayonet lug, which was not introduced until just prior to WWI. The Upper Band retains the majority of its original blued finish that is fading to a plum patina in places from storage wear. The Upper Band Screw is an unmarred, single slot, round head type that has almost all of the original blued finish present. The Stacking Swivel is the correct milled type that retains 95% of the original blued finish. The Lower Sling Swivel Assembly is the correct milled and unmarked type that retains 98% of its blued finish with unmarred single-slot screws, which also retain virtually all of their original blued finish.
The Bolt is a mint condition, correct and early Rock Island straight-handle type with the small gas escape hole. The Bolt retains approximately 98% of its original blued finish, with minimal wear on the bolt body and handle. The bottom of the root handle has a small hardness punch mark. The Extractor Collar is the correct milled type and retains 98% of its blued finish. The Bolt Stop Detents are present on the left lug. The front of the lug has the correct heat lot number stamp “C13,” which is correct for Rock Island 1903s made for the short period between November 1912 and June 1913.
The Extractor is the correct early type with the gas escape hole. The Extractor retains 98% of its blued finish with wear noted only on the forward most portion where it secures on bolt closing.
The Cocking Piece is the correct and early type with four rows of fine knurling on the head and three smooth milled circumferential rings as the head gauges down to the neck of the Cocking Piece. The Cocking Piece retains the vast majority of its original color case hardened finish. The cocking piece extension retains 95% of its original blue finish.
The Bolt Sleeve is the correct three-position type that retains 98% of its original blue. The Bolt Sleeve detent button is present and remains in the white. The Safety is the correct early type with serif "READY" and "SAFE" stampings and without the hole in the top. The Safety retains 100% of its slightly faded case-hardened finish throughout. The Firing Pin Spring remains in the white and has 34 coils with no corrosion present and sharply tapered ends. The Firing Pin Sleeve is correctly unmarked and retains 95% of its blued finish. The Firing Pin is also correctly unmarked and retains 95% of its blued finish with wear noted on the forward portion of one side and along the base.
The Fixed Rear Sight Base is the correct solid type with lightening cuts on the top portion and it retains 98% of its blued finish on both top and bottom. The pins securing the Rear Sight Base to the Barrel on the bottom are flush with the sides of the Base itself. The Rear Sight is the correct second variation of the Model 1905 Rear Sight manufactured by Rock Island. The Windage Knob is the correct large diameter type with the knurled outer edge that retains 98% of its blued finish. The small windage knob was used at Rock Island until 1910 when the larger .575" diameter knob was introduced. The Elevation Leaf is the correct Rock Island manufactured leaf, graduated for the .30-06 cartridge, that has the polished face with straight leg "7" numerals, indicating Rock Island production. The top of the Elevation Leaf has the volley notch and the top rear of the Leaf has the half-round rib to prevent the slide from falling off. The rear of the leaf has a serif “M” stamp. The Cap Slide is the correct type with the rounded left end and it retains 98% of its blued finish. The Binding Knob is the correct early type with knurled outer edge and it retains 98% of its blued finish. The Drift Slide is the correct second type with horizontal line that runs through the aperture and it retains 100% of its blued finish. The rear of the slide is marked “5” indicating it has a .05” diameter peep. The Rear Sight Base and Leaf Spring both retain 98% of their blued finish.
The Trigger Guard is the correct milled, second type that incorporated the shortened trigger slot and it retains 98% of its blued finish. The exterior finish still retains its blue color as does the interior, protected surfaces. The Floor Plate has the correct Rock Island gradually sloping bevel to the front nose portion of the plate where it joins the Trigger Guard Plate. The floor plate also retains 98% of its original blue finish on both sides with only minor plum patina appearing on the exposed surface. Both of the Trigger Guard Screws are single slot, rounded head types that retain 95% of their blued finish and only one slot is slightly marred. The Follower is the correct milled type and retains 95% of its blued finish with wear noted on the top of the Follower. The Follower Spring is the correct unmarked type with the pronounced, rounded bends and it retains 98% of its blued finish.
The Stock is a very rare and original Rock Island single-bolt, finger groove stock that was never modified after this rifle was manufactured. The rear trap compartment of the Stock has the spare parts container recess, which was introduced at Rock Island in 1910, the year after this rifle was manufactured. The front nose of the stock has the correct Rock Island serif "S" stamp, still crisply stamped and clearly visible. The left side of the stock has the correct, clip cornered, boxed and still crisply stamped Rock Island cartouche marked with script letters, "CN/1912," indicating final inspection by Rock Island inspector Conrad Nelson in 1912. The bottom of the wrist, just to the rear of the Trigger Guard, is a serif "X" sub-inspection stamp and the Rock Island circle, script "P" firing proof stamp. The interior milled out section of the Stock has serif "N" adjacent to the receiver lug recess. In the trigger recess is a crisp, serif “C” stamp.
The Stock is in beautiful, mint condition with very minor dings and minor scratches but it has the beautiful, original dark oiled patina one expects to see on original and unaltered stocks from this period. There are no cracks noted in this stock. The Butt Plate on this stock is the correct milled, small checkered type, which was used at Rock Island until 1912, when this rifle was manufactured. The butt plate, to include the trap door and tang, exhibit 98% of the original blue finish. The Trapdoor interior exhibits 98% of its original darker blued finish. Both Butt Plate Screws, the tang screw with a rounded head and the bottom screw with a flat head both retain considerable original blued finish and are not marred.
The Handguard on this Rifle is the original and mint condition Rock Island handguard and has the high hump with short sight clearance cut. Both spring clips are present and both retain the vast majority of their original blued finish. The rearmost portion of the sight protective hump ends at the top in a near vertical position, which is characteristic of Rock Island handguards. The bottom of the Handguard also has the characteristic fixture slot, which was omitted around WWI. The semi-circular windage knob clearance cut is also present on the right, rear of the Handguard. The finish on the handguard and the stock match perfectly.
This rifle also comes with an original and mint condition Oiler. The oiler retains 98% of its original nickel-plated brass finish. The original leather absorber is present. The original leather washer on the oil applicator end is still present. The oil applicator tip is unmarred. The original weight and line is present and the weight still retains virtually all of its original blued finish.
This rifle also comes with an original leather Model 1907 Sling in fine condition. The sling is unmarked. Both original brass hooks are present and both remain tightly riveted to their respective sling sections. Both original sewn leather keepers are also present.
This is a very rare and seldom seen Rock Island Arsenal Model 1903 that was a new production (not using altered parts) rifle with all of the 1905 and 1906 changes incorporated when it was manufactured in 1912 that incorporated the new changes appearing in the previous production year at Rock Island. While Rock Island production numbers by year are not precise because of the numerous halts in production caused by the changes in 1905 and 1906 and because of poor steel used in barrels during this period, a rough estimate of the number of Rock Island 1903s like this rifle that were newly manufactured with 1910 and 1911 changes numbers just over 20,000 rifles. Given that most of these 20,000 rifles manufactured in 1912 were eventually modified just before or after WWI or even as late as just prior to WWII, a surviving example from this period of Rock Island's 1903 production is a very rare survivor and almost never seen.
This Rock Island Model 1903 is a truly museum quality example and functions perfectly. This rifle would be almost impossible to upgrade.