The M1903 Mk I modified For The WWI
Pedersen Device Is Rarely Found Intact.
I looked at it twice and pinched myself. Like many of my generation, I consider Elmer Keith one of the greats in our field. What many don’t know is that Keith spent some time as a small arms inspector at the Ogden, Utah, Arsenal during the period from 1949 to 1956. His inspector’s cartouche was a rectangular box containing the initials “O.G.E.K.” Here I was holding in my hands a 1903 Springfield with Elmer Keith’s cartouche stamped boldly on the left side of the stock. It was a memorable moment in more ways than one.
This was not just any old 1903 Springfield. It was a Mark I conversion for the WWI Pedersen Device. The Pedersen device converted the M1903 to a semi-automatic rifle firing a .30-caliber pistol cartridge propelling an 80-grain bullet at 1,300 fps (later increased to 1,500 fps). The Pedersen device was to be the secret weapon of WWI, so secret in fact, to confuse the enemy, it was given the official nomenclature of “Automatic Pistol, Caliber .30, Model of 1918.”
Occasionally, a gun show turns up a great find. This early Post WWI M1903 survived
WWII intact with all the parts necessary for the Pedersen device—without, of course,
the extremely rare device itself, and passed through the hands of inspector Elmer Keith.
The M1903 Springfield is an American icon, and doubly so when it carries Elmer Keith’s
cartouche, and has been modified for the rare Pedersen device.
It was an ingenious invention of J. D. Pedersen, a prolific, independent, firearms designer, who worked closely with Remington to develop several of their handgun, rifle and shotgun models. The device was a blowback action that simply replaced the Springfield bolt and accepted a 40-round stick magazine. When exhibited to General Pershing in France in 1917, a year when the war was not going well, Pershing and his staff predicted the American Expeditionary Force armed with Pedersen converted M1903’s and M1917’s and 400 rounds of ammunition per man would sweep the battlefield during a surprise offensive in 1919.
Pershing and his staff ordered 500,000 devices from Remington to fit both the 1903 Springfield and the Model 1917 plus 800,000,000 rounds of ammunition, but the war ended in November 1918 and only 65,000 Pedersen devices were actually manufactured. In 1931, 64,873 devices and 60,000,000 rounds of ammunition were destroyed, making the surviving Pedersen devices and ammunition very rare and very valuable collectibles indeed.
From 1918 through 1921, it is speculated that approximately 145,000 Springfields were converted to the Mark I configuration. According to William S. Brophy in his definitive work, The Springfield 1903 Rifles, “The highest serial number observed of a Mark I rifle has been 1,197,834, and the latest date observed of what appeared to be an original Mark I rifle barrel has been 5-20. The Keith Springfield carries the serial number 1,187,183 and a barrel date of 4-20, making it one of the last Mark I conversions done by the Springfield Armory.
The most prominent feature of the Mark I conversion is the open, oval, Pedersen, ejection port milled into the left receiver wall. Two other features visible are a unique 2-piece sear, designed to trip the sear of the Pedersen device and a modified cut-off that locks the Pedersen device in place when turned down to the “OFF” position.
With its barrel dated, 4-20, the Keith Springfield exhibits all of these Pedersen conversion features, making it doubly interesting as a collectible. According to Brophy, “In 1937-38, all Mark I rifles in storage had the special parts removed and were reclassified as M1903 rifles.”
The ultimate irony of the Pedersen story is that in spite of all the secrecy and disinformation associated with the device, Brophy reports in the summer of 1945, “Army Ordnance Intelligence found a complete M1903 Mark I rifle and device in the reference collection at the Rheinische Westfallian Sprengstoff, A.G. Nurnberg, Germany (an ammunition and explosives company). It had been in the reference collection for a quarter century. The secret had leaked.”
In fact, Germany had, from day one, been an integral part of the M1903 saga since the US Ordnance Department design infringed on at least seven Mauser patents associated with the Mauser stripper clip and the Model 1898 Mauser action itself.
This post WWI-era Springfield (above) received Elmer Keith’s inspection cartouche at the
Ogden Arsenal after WWII. The “Mark I” stamp (below) indicates this 1903 as having been
modified for the Pedersen device.
The Mark I cut-off (above) has a milled out area to lock the Pedersen device in the
receiver when turned to “OFF.” This is a normal Springfield cut-off (below) for comparison.
Mauser Lawyers Up
In 1898, Mauser retained the services of Messrs. Von Lengerke & Detmold (VL&D) of New York City to handle the importation and distribution of Mauser sporting products. Because of their extensive contacts in the firearms world, VL&D were aware of the ongoing design of the M1903 and alerted Mauser to the possibility of potential patent infringements. Mauser, in turn, actually assigned key patent rights to VL&D to better build a legal case and defense of their patents in the United States.
As expected, VL&D retained a patent attorney who confronted the US Chief of Ordnance, Brigadier General William Crozier, with the Mauser patent infringement issues. The result was a royalty contract drawn up between Mauser the US Government. Author, Jon Speed, in his book The Mauser Archive, documents that between 1904 and 1909 at least $200,000 was paid out to Mauser in yearly installments, and in spite of WWI, the US Government even as late as 1930/31 in the midst of a Depression was still making royalty payments to Mauser.
Stories like these make collecting, studying and shooting milsurps such an interesting hobby. One final note and word of caution. In the firearms press, I have seen reference made to the cartouche, “O.G.E.K.”, as being that of Elmer Keith’s. Unless those initials are enclosed in a rectangular box, it is not Keith’s. It’s the cartouche of another post-WWII, Ogden Arsenal inspector, Ed Klouser.
“And that,” as they say, “is the rest of the story.”
By Holt Bodinson
The Mauser Archive, by Jon Speed, hardcover, 576 pages, ©2007, $89.95 from Collector Grade Publications, P.O. Box 1046, Cobourg, Ontario, Canada K9A 4W5, (905) 342-3434, www.collectorgrade.com
The Model 1903 Springfield Rifle and Its Variations, by Joe Poyer, soft cover, 466 pages, ©2004, $24.95 from North Cape Publications, P.O. Box 1027, Tustin, CA 92781, (800) 745-9714, www.northcapepubs.com
The Springfield 1903 Rifles, by William S. Brophy, hardcover, 624 pages, ©1985, $99.95, Stackpole Books, 5067 Ritter Rd., Mechanicsburg, PA 17055, (800) 732-3669, www.stackpolebooks.com