The important distinction between Rock Island Armory and Rock Island Arsenal

Miguel Ortiz
Updated onApr 26, 2023
3 minute read
Rock Island Arsenal


A brand name can mean a lot, especially in the world of firearms. However, careful attention must be paid when companies market themselves with a name linked to history. For…

A brand name can mean a lot, especially in the world of firearms. However, careful attention must be paid when companies market themselves with a name linked to history. For example, the historic federal Springfield Armory is related only in name and logo to the modern firearms manufacturer and importer of the same name. Similarly, the Rock Island Armory firearms manufacturer is in no way related to the U.S. Army's Rock Island Arsenal.

Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, c. 1839 (Public Domain)

Located on Arsenal Island, previously known as Rock Island, Rock Island Arsenal is the only active Army foundry. The island sits within the Illinois state boundary on the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. Previously used by Native Americans, Arsenal Island was established as a government site with the creation of Fort Armstrong in 1816.

Perspective drawing of the prison for Confederate soldiers at Rock Island, c. 1864 (Public Domain)

During the Civil War, Fort Armstrong was used as POW camp for Confederate prisoners. With thousands of prisoners incarcerated, disease claimed the lives of over 2,000 Confederate and Union soldiers at Fort Armstrong. They remain buried on the island at the Confederate Cemetery and Rock Island National Cemetery.

Rock Island Arsenal, Building No. 1 (Public Domain)

After the war, the prison facility was demolished but the federal government retained ownership of the island. When the Army built an arsenal and ordnance manufacturing facility, the island was renamed to Arsenal Island. Since it was established, Rock Island Arsenal has manufactured military weapons from M1903 rifles to early, experimental helicopter artillery. Today, Rock Island Arsenal hosts First Army headquarters and the U.S. Army Center of Excellence for Advanced and Additive Manufacturing.

Rock Island Armory and Armscor trace their roots back to Squires, Bingham & Co. (Armscor)

By contrast, Rock Island Armory traces its roots back to 1905 when two British expatriates opened a print shop named Squires, Bingham & Co. in the Philippine capital of Manila. The shop expanded to sell clothing, ammunition and firearms leading to it being renamed Sportsmen's Headquarters in 1930. That year, an American named Arthur Hileman purchased the company. However, with the Japanese Empire expanding rapidly across the Pacific, Hileman sold the business to a Filipino named Celso Tuason in 1941.

Rock Island Armory's mainstay is the 1911 (Armscor)

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines later that same year, Sportsmen's Headquarters' entire inventory of firearms and ammunition was confiscated by the occupiers. To survive the war, Tuason sold clothing and accessories. In 1952, following the Philippines' post-war focus on industrialization, Tuason obtained the first firearms manufacturing license from the government and opened firearms and ammunition plants across the country. Paying tribute to its heritage, the business was renamed Squires Bingham Manufacturing, Inc.

Rock Island Armory has expanded to manufacturing other pistols and rifles, as well as importing shotguns (Armscor)

In 1965, Tuason's eldest son, Demetrio, took over the company. Demetrio's younger brothers, Carlos and Severo, joined the business in the 1960s as well. In 1980, the company was renamed Arms Corporation of the Philippines, better known as Armscor. Five years later, Armscor opened its first offices in the United States. They also licensed the name Rock Island Armory to sell 1911 pistols imported to the U.S. from the Philippines. Today, Armscor is headed by Demetrio's son, Martin; the third generation of the family to lead the business. In the U.S., Armscor and Rock Island Armory have offices and facilities in Montana, Utah and Nevada.