In this article, we look at regulation US military metal stirrups of the 20th century. Stirrups are one of those small details in horse equipment that perform a vital function, and yet can take on so many interesting and curious styles and details. The 20th century brought a renewed vitality to the US military. The perceived success of the Spanish-American War brought a general surge of patriotism and a favorable attitude for improving the military as a whole, and was even reflected these sidenotes of history. Well documented with both extremely rare and extremely common specimens being represented, these stirrups present a manageable slice to study. Ordnance and Quartermaster official drawings are used, as well as photos of actual specimens.
Model of 1904 Artillery Stirrup
This particular pattern was the standard style of metal US stirrups from the very earliest years. The elevated offset transom for the stirrup strap along with the brass metal shows a stirrup that is little changed from it’s predecessors. Indeed, it is a nearly identical replacement for the ‘New Model’ 1863 artillery stirrups of the civil war. The only difference is the addition of a sheet iron tread plate, to enhance the durability of the stirrup.
Two different finishes are found, with unused examples of all production years showing a thick brown japan paint. Many of these stirrups in used condition are found with this paint missing, which might not always have been a post-military alteration. As early as February 1905, the stirrup is shown in Ordnance Department drawings, specified to have a ‘Bronze’ finish – the oxidized dark bronze-black finish so common to later military metal fittings. A curious thing, we see stirrups being made as late as 1908 with japan paint, years after being noted to have a bronze finish. It is not difficult to believe that more than a few of these painted stirrups were polished off by various artillery batteries – shiny brass, regulations be d*mned!
The stirrup is marked with a ‘US’, ‘Rock Island Arsenal’ and the year of manufacture, with dates from 1904 through 1908. An occasional odd pair may be found with just a ‘US’ marking.
Model of 1905 Officers Stirrup
With the new century came an updated officers saddle, commonly referred to as the Whitman-McClellan. It had the look of the old Whitman pattern, but an updated sidebar shape that reflected more of the McClellan form. A new stirrup was made for this saddle that was the exact form as the old brass artillery stirrup. The metal was German silver, an alloy of nickel, zinc, and copper.
Unlike the artillery stirrups and their metal treads, the 1905 stirrup used a rubber pad with raised ribs. This pad was inset into a recess in the top of the tread, and held by three german silver pins. We find these with ‘US’, ‘R.I.A’ and date markings on the bottom of the tread, usually found dated 1905 through 1909.Photographs of Model of 1905 Officers Stirrup
1905 Officers Stirrup – Second Pattern?
There is an interesting stirrup found in a single Ordnance Department drawing, dated to September 1910, shown as a replacement for the Model of 1905. It only appeared in this one drawing, so we don’t know if it was ever actually produced and delivered from the arsenal. If there are any out there, they would be exceedingly rare items indeed.
The general style is exactly like the 1905 pattern, with a small change to remake the top section to remove the old-style transom and replace it with a more modern ‘integral’ stirrup strap hole.
Model of 1910 Officers/Polo Stirrup
This was a forged steel stirrup, with knife-edge tread, specified to have a ‘sanded and oxidized’ finish. These were delivered with the very last of the Whitman-McClellan officers saddles, and for a short time for 1911 Polo Saddle (1912-1914). Very rare stirrup, all seen marked with ‘US’, ‘RIA’, ‘NS’ (for ‘nickel steel’) and 1911 date. It is extremely similar to the later M1912 stirrup, with a minor variation in the cross-section of the tread.Photographs of Model of 1910 Officers Stirrup
1911 Polo Stirrup
A very common civilian type used for 1911 Polo, steel with nickel plating. This may never have been an arsenal-made item, with a civilian stirrup sourced and supplied with the Rock Island produced polo saddle. It did rate being included in the 1911 dated Ordnance Drawings, but was replaced in the next year with the M1910 knife-edge pattern.
Model of 1912 Stirrup
Developed for the 1912 Horse Equipment set, the Model of 1912 is a large knife-edge stirrup very similar to the M1910. This pattern replaced all other metal stirrups by 1914. One of most common military stirrups in the world – with nearly a half million sets made during WW1. Markings on the bottom of the treads show that while many were made by Rock Island Arsenal most were made by a variety of wartime contractors in 1918 (‘M.D. & Co.’, ‘B.T. Co.’, ‘A.G.S. & Bros.’). Markings were standardized format with contractor initials over date of production, bracketed on the left with ‘US’ and ‘NS’ (for ‘nickel steel’) on the right.
The treads have a slightly different cross-section design from the previous M1910. No definitive reason for this has yet been found, other than perhaps it was easier to forge, or the form allowed the stirrup to more easily shed mud and muck.Photographs of Model of 1912 Stirrup
Model of 1916 Stirrup
Model of 1916 – French model stirrup, sometimes referred to as the ‘cross-country’ stirrup. These were direct copies of a type of French military stirrup that was popular at the time. They were a bit of a fad, I believe, and you don’t find them in official sources very often. Early Rock Island Arsenal photos of the M1917 officers equipment show these, although most 1917 officers equipment appear with M1912 or civilian type stirrups. They remained an ‘official’ pattern until replaced with the Model 1938.Photographs of Model of 1916 Stirrup
Model of 1938 Officers Stirrup
Model of 1938 Officers Stirrups – simply a modified M1912 stirrup, usually re-marked and often plated. One side would have a short section removed, and the ends would be welded back and polished out. Often, these were nickel or chrome plated. All were made from existing M1912 stirrups, so the original markings would be buffed off and replaced. These are found with a variety of maker marks, from ‘JQMD’ [ Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot] to some private saddlery firms, as late as 1941.
A pad option is shown in 1940 Quartermaster drawings, that could have been used for both the 1912 and 1938 stirrups, using a formed ‘red fiber’ composition pad held in place with two small round-head screws and washers. No other official military pads are known, so most you see on old military stirrups are civilian types fitted to old surplus.