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Old Plaque
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The New Plaque
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Most everything that is produced at the Rock Island Arsenal is to support the Warfighter in the field. However, on this special occasion, they are producing an item that honors those who served this country.

The National Cemetery Administration has partnered with RIA to produce 62 cast-iron tables containing the Gettysburg Address, the most prominent historic tablet found throughout the 125 national cemeteries.

"The new tablets measure nearly five-feet tall and three-feet wide, and will be painted black and silver," said Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center Program Manager, Roger Beine.

The National Cemetery Administration is recognizing the historical impact of President Abraham Lincoln, especially his initiation of the national cemetery system, by restoring and introducing some of his most beloved words to these facilities just in time to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth in February 2009.

In July 1862, legislation was enacted authorizing the president "to purchase cemetery grounds . . . to be used as a national cemetery." This was the origin of all national cemeteries, including 75 established by 1872. The next year, on November 19, 1863, Lincoln gave the famed speech at the dedication of "Soldier's National Cemetery" in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. An invitation to Lincoln to make "a few appropriate remarks" was almost an afterthought, but his 2-minute speech was the best-remembered event of the day and well beyond.

"The new tablets are being installed in older cemeteries where originals have been lost over the years," Beine said. "They are also being installed in cemeteries that were developed after about 1050 that never had them."

This is not the first time these historical tablets have been produced at RIA.

"Similar tablets were produced here exactly one century ago," said Beine.

An older tablet that currently resides at the Rock Island National Cemetery was used as the model for the new tablets. Common foundry practices were implemented to produce the tablet.

The process starts with a pattern being designed. The font for the new tablets had to be re-created using a likeness from the old tablets. After the casting is poured and cooled, it is cleaned, polished and painted. The total process takes about three weeks to complete, Beine explained.

RIA has the capabilities to produce a wide variety of products because they are the only vertically integrated metal manufacturing facility in the Department of Defense.

"Over the last 50 years, people have become accustomed to RIA producing artillery systems and spare parts" said Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing Center Deputy Commander, Mike Bunch. "However, we the capability to make almost anything our country calls for. The Gettysburg Plaques are just one example of us being able to make a very unique and cool item when called upon."

The Gettysburg Address as a permanent element of the cemetery landscape appears first in 1895 when legislation authorized a monument to Lincoln's speech at the Soldiers National Cemetery; it also transferred the cemetery to the federal government as part of the nation's fourth national battlefield park. That monument was not completed until 1912, but in the meantime, the Army had begun producing a standard Gettysburg Address tablet for all national cemeteries. Starting by 1909, these were fabricated of iron, later "copperplated," at RIA.