Springfield Trapdoor: America’s Breech-Loader

The Springfield Trapdoor was America’s first standard issue breech-loading rifle beginning in 1873. The advantage of rifles using metallic cartridges was quickly realized, and the hinged breechblock action of the Model 1873 was chosen over competing designs because of the ease by which existing rifles could be converted. In this video we showcase a Model 1884 and do a bit of shooting.

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Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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  • Lance

    Finally You Did It!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Bob

      DID WHAT?????????????

      • iksnilol

        Lance has wanted Alex to do a video on the trapdoor for, like, forever.

        I think it was nicely done of Alex.

  • William Nelson

    Saddest thing I’ve seen recently is a bubba’d Springfield in western NY in an antique store; stock painted Carolina blue, with the barrel cut down (to approx 16″ by my guess) and with no front sight or rear sight. So sad.

    • pics?

      • William Nelson

        No, no pics, but I’d be glad to point out where it is via email – I don’t wish to seem to put a place down that is innocent of what stuff that their vendors bring in, if that makes any sense.

    • lamarlamar

      ditto, there is one hanging in a ‘Cracker-Barrel” in Fort Payne Alabama! Right below the “Green Stamp” sign and right above the “Army” insignia poster!!!

  • LG

    Because of politics, the Krag did not get into production in the U.S. until1894. Trapdoors were issued before the 1873 models in 45-70, such as the Allen conversions and trapdoors in 50-70 caliber. There was a lot of trapdoor history in the U.S. prior to 1873. Actually the Krag and the Lee Navy are the real forgotten warriors.

    • I could do a long episode on the Trapdoor for sure, but I am not sure how long it would hold folk’s attention. May do it in the future though.
      I have a very nice Springfield model 1892 (serial number 11xx) that I would love to put up against the Trapdoor in a versus video to show how much of a force multiplier a bolt action offered to our soldiers. I imagine that to an infantryman who started his career on model 1884s, transitioning to the 1892 would be like a soldier today trading in his M4 for a laser blaster.

      • LG

        Yes, but the 1892 Krag did not reach soldiers prior to 1894. But just imagine the Marines and Navy going from the 50-70 rolling block to the 6 mm Lee Navy, from sails to turbines in one step. Ian and karl did a nice drill demo of Trapdoor and SAA vs. the Ruski Moisin and Nagant revolver. The real force multiplier was show when the Turks with lever action Winchesters beat the Russians.

        • I’m aware that the rifles were not distributed until 1894, but I did not know that it was because of the fact that it was not a domestic design.
          But I have always seen the Trapdoor (perhaps incorrectly) as a fine example of American frugality, as my experiences with its peers have been much more positive.

        • marathag

          I never seen a balloon head 50-70 or 45-75 look as terrible as those hand soldered Martini Henry 45-577 that were able to function with that Peabody falling block action.

          • LG

            The results from the Ordnance Department to the Secretary of War are freely available on Google Books. Look them up and read the actual range and field reports.

          • marathag

            I’m just saying that the first iron base 45-577s were far worse, brass was paper thin, and still was heavily used in colonial conflicts, and I will stand by that.

        • gunsandrockets

          Didn’t the USN use the 1885 Lee in .45-70 caliber?

          • LG

            Very few.

          • gunsandrockets

            At least a couple thousand.

      • ARCNA442

        InRangeTV has a great video where they compete in an action match with a Trapdoor and a Mosin Nagant. It’s definitely worth watching as the results are surprising.

        • Yes, I have seen it.

          • ARCNA442

            Then it would be interesting to see how your results would compare to theirs. The InRange match didn’t have any stages where the bolt action could really take advantage of its rate of fire, but it did leave me wondering just how much of an improvement it was (especially when you consider how the Mosin performed in their mud test).

      • Harry’s Holsters

        I’d love to hear the history on them. And when are you an Patrick going to do some cowboy action inspired video? That would be awesome!

      • MrEllis

        I can’t speak for others but I love these shoots with older firearms. I shot a converted percussion cap that was stamped “Harper’s Ferry” and just holding it you could almost feel the history entailed within. I enjoy just seeing these weapons shot, it’s a tangible connection to the past.

  • Christian Hedegaard-Schou

    Just a couple years ago I picked up a Model 1873 mfg’ed in 1886 still in shooting condition. It’s amazing that I can reload for and shoot this gun still today.

    Love those trapdoors.

    Now I just need to pick up a carbine version.

    • LG

      The carbines are great. While wearing shoulder belt with a saddle ring carbine, one has the original one point sling.

  • Vitsaus

    Cool video, but would love a run and gun with it.

  • Bob

    The Buffington Sight was the most sophisticated sight of its time. Sorry you youngsters don’t appreciate it or understand it. Your loss. Keep playing with your I phones, see where that gets you in the future. This country still needs “riflemen”.
    Bob

    • iksnilol

      Not really.

      Verniers and Soule sights are way better and more sophisticated.

      • LG

        Bob is correct. The vernier and Soule sights were not rugged enough for military field use.

        • mazkact

          Shoot a Snider some time, it’s sights make a Buffington sight seem like an ACOG. It is nice to have a windage adjustment and a peep. Like the 1903 Springfield rear sight the Buffington sight is a thing of beauty.

          • Bob

            Amen! I shoot an 1884 Springfield in BPCR competition. Once you understand how the sight works, it is a joy to use, as are the 1903 sights.

          • LG

            Exactly. The ’03 Springfield sight works great when one has the micrometer adjustment tool, such as the P.J. O’Hare. The O’Hare is the best in my opinion. he also made great front and rear sight protectors.

      • Bob

        The Buffington is a Vernier Sight. With bullet drift compensation and an aperture . Soule sights are great target sights, but we’re discussing a military rifle, not a target rifle.

  • gunsandrockets

    I imagine it also doesn’t help fast accurate firing to have the open breech blocking the shooters field of vision either. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘breech block’!

    • A bearded being from beyond ti

      Are you looking through the sights as the block is open? Shouldn’t you be reloading as it is?

      • iksnilol

        I could see it being done from the prone.

  • Tassiebush

    The ejection really surprised me! I was expecting something more like a Snider where the case has to be handled or tipped out. Gotta say I love these types of guns. The lock is basically just like the previous few centuries but there was nothing to improve upon so long as breech and lock-work were separate.

    • LG

      The original “trapdoors” were the Allen Conversions. These were refitted 58 caliber Springfield muskets with sleeved barrels. The original musket sights were even retained. The Trapdoor Springfield proved a savings since they could be relatively easily converted from excess supplies of muskets from The War of Northern Aggression. Also Allen was a government employee. Thus no royalty payments would have to be made.

  • hikerguy

    Had a friend of loved his. Reloaded for it, hunted with it, and loved to target shoot with it.

  • MrEllis

    I enjoy these vids, thanks for making them, Alex.

  • Big Daddy

    Is that the thingy that goes up?

  • mazkact

    I recently acquired a Snider MKIII, I love everything about it but the sights. Next up will be a Swedish Rolling block and a Trapdoor then likely a Martini-Henry. I am regressing,ah heck I should just start chunking rocks. Making these old guns shootable is fun but the real rabbit hole is making the cartridges. No challenge in making original pressure 45-70 though so maybe it should be next up.

  • The_Champ

    Neat old rifle. Does anyone have experience with modern reproductions, like the Pedersoli made ones?

  • robert h kruckman

    Alex: Are you parents rich or do you have the keys to a museum. After watching about twenty of your vids. and liking all of them, I wonder how U get so many cool guns? Anyway keep up the good work and I will just sit back and be envious.

  • Dave

    Cool, but this American’s breech loader is the Remington rolling block. I have 3 of them, rifle, carbine, and pistol, and having shot a trap door, I still prefer this very robust design. I would loan you the rifle for a comparison vid, if you would just run up to Walmart for the .43 Spanish ammo.

  • Reinhard

    As LG mentioned, there were many breechloaders before the M1873. The Civil War saw many different contracts awarded. Since the article specifically refers to “official,” that would eliminate most of them. Therefore the first official breechloader is the Spencer, which was manufactured in both rifle and carbine modes. It was used extensively in the Indian wars before the adoption of the M1873. Numerous other Civil War breechloaders were,indeed, converted to .50-70 and issued as well. In 1873 the military chose the single shot Springfield over repeating arm because of the caliber, which was a new innovation The army wanted a caliber that could take down a horse.. None of the others could reliably do this.
    The M1873 gets a great deal of criticism for being the cause of the defeat at the Little Big Horn in 1876. This is only partially accurate. Because of the volume of fire, the carbines over heated causing extraction of spent cases to be difficult. In some cases the extractor actually tore the rim of the case. This was truly excessive fire and was the only recorded time that this occurred. The real fault was the odds. The M1873,in various updates was issued and used into the 20th century. There are pictures of the Massachusetts National Guard embarking for France in 1917 carrying later model trapdoor Springfields.
    The army finally moved to repeating rifles with the Krag. This was a fine arm and has one of the smoothest actions of any factory rifle. The demise of the Krag for the 1903 Springfield was the doing of Theodore Roosevelt. The problem was not with the rifle, but with the ammunition. Issue Krag cartridges were loaded with black powder. The Mauser rifles of the Spanish were loaded with smokeless powder causing it to be harder to tell where the Spanish were and easy to spot the U. S. troops.

    • Marcus D.

      The Wiki article says that the problem at Little Big Horn was the ammo, which at the time was copper cased, leading to two issues: 1. it expanded and was thus difficult to extract; and 2. the green tarnish actually fused casings into the breech when fired. The Trapdoor Carbines issued to mounted cavalry did not have a ram rod, and a soldier had to pry out the case by any means available (usually a knife).

  • Archie Montgomery

    Good ‘show’ and discussion.

    Not mentioned and worthy of note is the original design was to convert extant muzzle loaders into cartridge firing rifles. Part of the history is the U. S. Government was reluctant to spend large sums of taxpayer dollars on a firearms program that didn’t seem quite so important, now the Civil War was over.

    One could make comparisons to the current U. S. Congress, but one abstains.

    The Springfield really did a good job, considering it was initially a ‘patchup’ sort of idea. Even in later models, when the rifles were built from scratch, so to speak; the government already had the machinery to build it, so it was cheaper to continue than to pay for development of a newer, better system.

    The high rise “ladder” rear sight was designed not for individual use, but for ‘volley fire’. A platoon or company sized group would set the sights for – far away – and as a group fire a number of rounds in a predetermined – by the officer, of course – direction. Sometimes over a low hill. The idea was to enfilade the target area, where ‘we’ presumed contained the enemy, usually in movement.

    This sort of rifle fire and sighting equipment was employed at least until the First World War. Even the Second World War era M1903a3 Springfield rifle had a ‘ladder’ sight.

    The use and art of the machinegun made this tactic less useful as time went on.

    Something I find interesting is the Springfield was maintained in some National Guard units until around the Second World War.

    However, I wouldn’t mind having a decent Springfield in my collection.

  • Marcus D.

    It just so happens that I was in a gun store today, and they had a trapdoor hanging there and for sale. I looked it over but could not find any serial number or barrel stampings, only the Springfield face plate. which had no date stamp. How can I tell when this rifle was made? By the sights? By the way, this had every indication, by coloration, stock color and wear, that this was an original. As an aside, i was surprised by how light it was. I built a .50 cal muzzle loader with a shorter barrel that is significantly heavier.