The ten stone shops were constructed from 1867 to 1893 as part of General Thomas J. Rodman's plan for a national arsenal. The five buildings on the south side were designated as "Arsenal Row" and were used for manufacture and overhaul of personal equipment for troops. The buildings on the north side were designated "Armory Row" and were used for the manufacture and overhaul of small arms.


Rock Island Arsenal was founded on July 11, 1862, when Congress passed an act establishing three new arsenals. The first building erected was Storehouse A, now known as the Clock Tower Building and home to the Rock Island District of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Rodman envisioned a grand national arsenal for the nation centered around ten stone shops which still stand today.

The five shops to the north were designated as Armory Row, while the five to the south were designated as Arsenal Row. A fire station and barracks flanked the shops to the west. The forge was middle building to the north, and the foundry was the middle building to the south. All of the building were constructed using Joliet limestone.

The first conflict that RIA produced for was the Spanish-American War, when the arsenal manufactured a number of carriages, saddles, and personal equipment for soldiers. During World War I, the arsenal was responsible for producing and retrofitting M1903 Springfield rifles, canteens, carriages, and other equipment. The main production item that immediately followed the war was the Mark VIII Tank, the first American-made tank. RIA produced all 100 American built Mark VIII tanks in just over one year.

Rock Island Arsenal has been active during every U.S. conflict since its birth, and has continually expanded into its current-day operations. From 1862 through today, the Arsenal and its workforce have upheld the creed "Forging the Strength of a Nation."