Staff Writer (Updated: 2/15/2016):
The story of the M1903 dates back to the late 1800s when, in 1892, the United States Army held trials between 53 competing designs for its new standard service rifle. Despite protests from local arms manufacturers, the foreign-born Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen rifle was selected the winner, becoming the first "magazine rifle" of the US military. Much financing was placed into its large-scale production and government facilities were heavily retooled specifically for the large-scale endeavor. Springfield Armory of Massachusetts was charged with production (which eventually earned the rifle the name of "Springfield Model 1892") and it delivered on some 500,000 examples between 1894 and 1904. The Krag-Jorgensen design was the standard issue infantry rifle of American soldiers during the Spanish-American War (1898) to which the type was deemed outclassed by the more effective charger-loaded Model 1893 Spanish Mausers being used by the enemy. This then led to the Ordnance Department to search for yet another new service rifle despite the heavy commitment in bringing the Krag-Jorgensen about. Springfield eventually produced a variety of rifle and carbine forms based on the Krag-Jorgensen and these were known under model designators of M1892, M1896, M1898 and M1899 showcasing their respective years of introduction.
Going along with contemporaries worldwide, the US went on to adopt the "Mauser" system under license from Germany, paying the then-hefty sum of $200,000 for localized production rights. First forms were developed around a 220-grain bullet sporting a blunt-nose shape but this was later abandoned when the Germans introduced their pointed-nose bullet (the "Spitzer") in 1905. Again following the world's lead, the US adopted the pointed bullet design and developed it into a 150-grain cartridge as the "Cartridge, Ball, Caliber 30, Model of 1906" (known as the ".30-06").
The cartridge would be paired with the American Mauser development designated as the "M1903". The rifle body itself was highly conventional for the time, featuring a long, two-piece single-banded wooden body with straight stock (lacking an integrated pistol grip in early versions) with inlaid metal workings partially exposed. The internal works were held at the rear of the body with the barrel protruding just a short distance ahead of the forend. Original barrels seen on the prototypes measured 30 inches long though this was later cut down to 24 inches for a more compact form (imitating the direction of the British and their approach to their Lee-Enfield "short" rifles). The bolt handle featured a ball at its end to ensure a firm grip in the heat of battle and the installation was set as a "turn-bolt" design over the right side of the receiver - shifted up-and-backwards to eject a spent shell casing and introduce a fresh cartridge with a forward-down action. The magazine was internal and fixed in place, requiring the use of cartridge "chargers" - prefabricated strips containing five ready-to-fire cartridges. Sling loops were set under the forend (at the second barrel band) and under the shoulder stock. Iron sights at the front and rear assisted accuracy at range. Unlike other operators around the world, the US Army elected to create a hybrid long gun that could serve as both a service rifle and carbine in one end-product. Other militaries produced two distinct rifles - a service rifle long gun and a dedicated short carbine form. Carbines were nothing more than shortened forms of full-length rifles and usually offered to specialist troops (such as cavalry who could appreciate a compact weapon at shorter ranges) or second-line operators such as logistical personnel. A long rifle design (ie longer barrel) increased accuracy at distance, a quality not required for non-infantry personnel though appreciated by infantry charged with targeting from extreme distances. The British produced their Lee-Enfields short rifles for this same reasoning. A bayonet could be fitted under the muzzle for extreme close combat (a standard feature of World War 1 rifles). For World War 2, a special muzzle adapter allowed firing of "rifle grenades" which provided a limited artillery-like reach for infantry.
As the Springfield Armory designed, developed and produced the M1903, it acquired the unofficial name of "M1903 Springfield" for its entire operational life. Similarly, the cartridge came to be known as the ".30-06 Springfield" for its relation to the armory.
The M1903 saw wide-scale issuance beginning in 1905 and these quickly replaced the Krag-Jorgensen rifles having lasted just nine years in service. The first production forms (known simply as "Standard") did make use of the aforementioned 220-grain bullet as well as a rod bayonet and manufacture stemmed from the Springfield Armory the Rock Island Arsenal and Remington Arms Company. In 1906, the adoption of the German 150-grain "Spitzer" bullet forced a new rear sight (leaf) to be added due to the differing ballistics of the new bullet. Overall length was 43.4 inches with a near-9lb weight (unloaded).
The original M1903 Standard stocks were followed into service by the "M1903 Mk 1". These rifles were designed to utilize the "Pedersen Device" accepted in 1918, a system allowing the M1903 to fire a short .30 caliber pistol cartridge through a semi-automatic action, the spent shell casings being ejecting through a port bored into the left side of the wooden frame. The device was developed by Remington Arms engineer John Pedersen prior to the US entry into World War 1 in 1917 and consisted of a 40-round vertical magazine fitted into the Springfield system, the internal sear and cutt-off of the M1903 being reworked. The idea was to provide the US infantryman with voluminous fire while he traversed the deadly kill zones of trench warfare known as "No Man's Land". After successfully demonstrating the device, Mk 1 rifles were put into production. However, the war was over in November of 1918. Some 101,775 examples were produced from 1918 into 1920 though, by this time, their usefulness was null and many of these rifles were eventually reworked back into the M1903 standard while the Pedersen Devices were scrapped.