Silently sitting on the waterfront of the Potomac River, the 85,000 square foot Torpedo Factory Art Center at 105 North Union Street in Old Town Alexandria is a landmark of Northern Virginia history. Today, the Torpedo Factory houses artist studios, galleries, art workshops, and even an archeology museum. Yet during the tumultuous years of America’s involvement in the Second World War, workers produced a different form of art within the Torpedo Factory’s walls – the Mark 14 submarine torpedo used by U.S. Navy personnel in the Pacific theater of the war. Over 70 years after its decommissioning as a munitions depot, the history of the Torpedo Factory is a fascinating tale of politics, faulty weapon engineering, and local spirit.
Construction on the Alexandria Naval Torpedo Station began on November 12th, 1918, one day after Armistice Day ended hostilities in the First World War. Early on, Alexandria shared its responsibilities for manufacturing and maintaining torpedoes and weapon ordnance with the primary Naval Torpedo Station located on Goat Island in Newport, Rhode Island. Goat Island housed the Bureau of Ordnance, the organization responsible for the Navy’s primary weapons development and research. In an attempt to keep money and resources flowing to the Torpedo Station on Goat Island, Congressional delegations from several New England states convinced Congress to cease production at Alexandria and focus all resources toward Goat Island and the Bureau of Ordnance. In 1923, Alexandria ceased production, becoming a munitions storage facility for close to twenty years.