As I understand it, the problem with low-numbered receivers was not the content of the steel, but improper heat-treating. Workers at SA and RIA were used to treating "by eye" and tests proved that, depending on how bright a day it was, it could change the temperature of the steel being processed significently. A number of receivers and other parts were found to be "burned". It wasn't until pyrometres were installed and temperature was closely monitors that the problem was controlled.
In the 1920s then Major Julian Hatcher supervised the testing of all "low numbered" rifles in service. Those found acceptable were marked with one or more punch marks on the bottom of the receiver. Those that were not were withdrawn from service and the receivers were were presumably removed and destroyed.
As for the number of failed receivers I havent heard of any failing, but this mabe due to.
1.That the brittle receivers were destroyed when removed from service.
2. That the word of mouth about low numbered receivers has been spread around enough that anyone that may have a low numbered receiver is content to keep it for its collectors value and not risk shooting it.
Now these are just a couple of theories, and are not verifiable. If there are other ones lets hear them.
I purchased a lower number or brittle receiver by mistake. It was returned as soon as it was possible. The chance of losing an eye or worse was not an option. The recommendation is to hang them as a conversation piece as the other gentleman stated. The issue is, you never know when they will break up.
Our Government did not recall or take the suspect rifles out of service. During WWI the economy wasn't very good and the prospect of destroying the rifles would have been undesireable and limited our ability to enter the war. I read an article in a magazine in the last couple of years that explains in detail the hardness problem. Also, I own "Hatcher's Notebook."
Obviously, you have to make your own decision, but I feel it not worth the chance.
According to the article, they were all issued. It was decided the failures were so random all would have to be destroyed to be sure, and the war effort could stand the loss. Hatcher listed the failures in his book, he even described the circumstances. The accidents were throughout the 800,000 Springfields and the 285507 Rock Islands. What makes the ruptures frightening, is they can happen at any time. Some of the rifles had been in service for some time and then they blew up. I am sure some of the high serial numbers may be alright, but the range is to insure all possibilities are covered. Some of the testing used "blue pill" loads, that raised the pressure above the specs. They passed the test, but later some serial numbers around the test weapons blew.
I drove 250 miles to buy mine only to return it when I found it was within the danger range. If fact, I considered hanging it because it was in great shape, and I really wanted that rifle. However, I am a shooter and was afraid of the temptation.
Less than 100 of the 1903 Springfield and Rock Island Rifles were destroyed because of the receiver failing, and all of them had exceptional circumstances, that caused or at the very least contributed to the destruction.
About 25 had the "Proof Test" rounds fired (many times), and through excessive pressure the receivers were "work hardened" by stressing them above the "Yield Point". They failed!
At least 35 failed because soldiers had been dipping the bullets in "Oil" before loading them. This increased the chamber pressures to the point that the receivers failed! It seems that this was a carryover from .30-40 Krag days when some soldiers found that they could cut down on the "Copper Fouling" near the muzzle (copper bumps would develop near the muzzle, over a short time, and this affected the accuracy) by dipping the bullets in the oil. It was believed by the soldiers that this was a necessary precaution, so they blew the receivers up through ignorance. They failed!
Others maybe another 15 to 20 failed when overloaded hand loads were deliberately fired in them, some over a fairly long period of time. They failed!
There is no way of knowing if some of the rifles blew up in combat (I am reasonably sure that there would have been a report that mentioned it, if even a few had failed).
As to the heat treat being improper, there is always that risk, even with the proper tools and measuring devices. The blame for the heat treat problems should not be resting entirely on the shoulders of the heat treaters. Most of the "Old Timers" were very capable of doing excellent visual checking of the heat treat as it progressed, and had done so all of their working years. YES, bad lighting conditions very definitely would have affected the precision of the Heat Treatment, and the same thing has recurred using the "Latest and Greatest" equipment. If you don't know what to look for, you are going to make major mistakes. I worked for quite a few years as a Blacksmith, and believe me you have to learn tricks of the trade in order to be on time.
I had read that when the production was ramped up for WWI; there were many people hired to push production (normal procedure). New blacksmiths were hired, and many had no training or very little, this combined with "New Production Engineers", was a shortcut to problems. Cutting corners is a quick solution, and very definitely can cause very serious problems.
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