U.S. Army Ordnance Museum
By John T. Marck
Previously located in Aberdeen, Maryland, on the Aberdeen Proving Ground this was once Harford County's largest tourist attraction. More than two hundred thousand persons each year, from all parts of the United States and the world visited the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum.
The U.S. Army Ordnance Museum's mission is to collect, preserve and account for historically significant property that relates to the history of the United States Army Ordnance Corps and the evolution and development of American military ordnance material from the colonial period to the present.
The museum traces its origin back to the Calibre Board that convened in France in 1918, under B.G. Westervelt. In the performance of its work, the Calibre Board gathered all kinds of artillery equipment and subjected these items to a tactical evaluation. To obtain such an evaluation, weapons' engineers shipped the equipment to the Aberdeen Proving Ground for scrutinizing. Following the reports by the Calibre Board, the Ordnance Department established an office known as the Technical Staff, whose purpose was to carry out the recommendations of the Board. In order to stay on top of various Ordnance developments, the Technical Staff organized a repository at Aberdeen Proving Ground to store and catalogue the various types of equipment sent from France and other sources. As the collection grew, the equipment was stored in an area known as Building 314, which became the museum's home for the next forty one years. In 1923 interest in the Museum began to diminish, until the arrival of Major Raymond C. Marsh in 1925. Marsh was attracted to the collection and thus was permitted to organize the collection in a meaningful way. It was Marsh, who, on his own initiative, expanded the collection to include small arms, military vehicles, aircraft bombs, fire control equipment and armored fighting vehicles. Between 1925 and 1939, the collection grew as new items of equipment were being tested at the Proving Ground, then transferred to the museum.
In 1940 because of the declaration of the limited National Emergency, the Armed Forces expanded, and the Museum building had to be remodeled for classroom use. Consequently, the collection was stored out of doors, and quickly deteriorated. By 1942, most of the items in the collection had to be scrapped. In 1940, G. Burling Jarrett joined the Museum staff and served as curator until his retirement in 1966. In 1942, a Foreign Material Section was established at Aberdeen to study and report on various types of equipment. During World War II large amounts of foreign equipment was sent to Aberdeen for evaluation, and later began the heart for the museum. Following the end of World War II the Foreign Material Section was disestablished, but the museum survived and became known simply as the Aberdeen Proving Ground Museum.
Between 1945 and 1950, the museum conducted important work in cataloging Ordnance equipment, as well as publishing impressive manuscripts. Among these was a notable report by Karl Kempf, on Russian equipment. Kempf (who served as curator 1967-1971), was fluent in the German language and used captured German reports to prepare in depth studies on Russian equipment. These reports became invaluable in 1950 when U.S. Forces in Korea confronted an enemy equipped by the Soviet Union. After the Korean War the collection again began to grow.
Again however; in 1967, as the U.S. Forces were preparing for their commitment in Southeast Asia, the Museum, building 314, had to be remodeled as the Headquarters for the Army's Test and Evaluation Command. As a result the Army decided to liquidate the Museum collection to avoid the cost of maintaining it. However, before any action by the Army, a group of local citizens formed a tax-free foundation to build a new home for the museum.
In March 1973, they reopened the new Museum to the public at its present location and was named the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum. The Museum is a most interesting place to visit. Contained within the Museum are exhibits of small arms and other types of military equipment ranging from the early 1800s to present day, and a Spanish cannon. A gift shop is also found inside the museum. There are outside exhibits titled the Mile of Tanks, on Maryland Boulevard, which includes tanks and combat vehicles, as well as a twenty-five-acre display of two hundred twenty-five items on the Museum grounds. These items include antiaircraft artillery, howitzers, towed artillery, antitank artillery, self propelled artillery, and tanks. They represent various countries through this equipment including, the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, Soviet Union and others.
Sadly, the museum is no longer located here. Today it is located and known as: The U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center, 2221 Adams Avenue, Building 5020, Fort Lee, Virginia.
Copyright 2000-2022 by John T. Marck. Photograph of the United States Ordnance Museum ©2000-2022 (2013) by John T. Marck. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
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