The American-built, six ton M1917 light tank was patterned after the FT-17 Renault tank used by the American Expeditionary Force Tank Corp. during the early part of WWI. The M1917 exhibits many of the original design features of the French tank but incorporated several modifications to include: a bulkhead to separate the two man crew from the rear engine compartment, replacement of the steel-rimmed wooden idler wheels with al steel wheels, and an American built engine. M1917's were fitted with riveted octagonal turrets, as opposed to the cast, round turrets found on many French FT-17 tanks; they were equipped with American weapons. The turret, which could rotate 360 degrees, was the first of its kind to be incorporated into military tank design. The turret was fitted with either a .30 caliber Browning machine gun or a larger 37mm gun. (The Pennsylvania Military Museum M1917 had originally been equipped with the 30 caliber Browning.) The M1917 shell was constructed using 1/2” and 5/8” thick plates, bolted together, to shield the two man crew. The commander/gunner/loader was stationed in the rotating turret and the driver was positioned in the center, in front of the tank hull. The M1917 was powered by a Buda HU modified, 4 cylinder, 4 cycle, vertical L-band engine that produced 42 horsepower. The engine could propel the tank at a top speed of six mph, averaging 1 mile of gasoline per gallon with a 30 gallon fuel tank. Because of its limited speed, the M1917 was confined to only serving in a supportive role for the Infantry. By the end of WWI, roughly 5,000 M1917 tanks were manufactured; however, only six surviving M1917 tanks are known to exist within the United States.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum M1917 had been used by the Pennsylvania National Guard until surplused and purchased by a private citizen sometime after WWI. The tank was partially restored and the original engine replaced with a Model A Ford motor. The exterior of the tank had been repainted in a “fantasy” camouflage pattern, loosely based upon historic photographs and period descriptions. In order to be used on macadam surfaces for events such as parades, each tread's individual track plate had been modified with two holes where wooden pads were installed. The M1917 was donated to the museum in 1968 to be incorporated into a newly constructed WWI diorama. The tank was “dirtied” at that time using a mixture of pigmented Portland cement and plaster, to create an “in-use” appearance.
In 2006, the Pennsylvania Military Museum contracted B.R. Howard & Associates, Inc. to remove the cement and plaster and stabilize the mechanical components on the tank. Upon arrival at the studios of B.R. Howard and Associates, the tank was thoroughly examined and photographically documented. Paint samples were removed and sent for microscopic cross-sectional analysis to document the paint layer sequence and identify the original pigments. Paint analysis revealed the presence of an early, if not original, camouflage pattern under three layers of paint and varnish. In consultation with the museum curators, all of the non-original camouflage over-paint was removed to reveal the original paint layer and pattern. It was estimated that 85% of the original camouflage design, although weathered, remained on the surfaces of the tank, perhaps making this the only surviving M1917 which had retained its period camouflage design. That original pattern was identified, labeled, and photographically documented. (While one would not expect to see colors such as yellow and blue on a tank, it is important to remember that camouflage was in its early stages of development and used to visually “break up” an object). The surface of the tank was then given a protective isolation varnish prior to strengthening the original camouflage design with reversible, synthetic resin based paints. An additional pigmented lacquer was applied to protect the new paint layer and to give the appearance of an aged layer of paint. The wooden blocks were removed from the tracks and the treads were cleaned. The steel panels forming the shell around the engine were unbolted and removed to facilitate cleaning, degreasing, and stabilization of the engine and engine compartment. All fuel and oils were removed from the engine and high viscosity lubricants were reintroduced as necessary to prevent deterioration. Areas of corrosion were mechanically reduced and coated with a protective resin. The interior of the tank was found to be in excellent condition with the exception of some inaccurately reproduced and/or missing components. Several of those elements, the ammo bins, seat back strap, and leather hatch grab handles, were recreated based upon historic photographs and remnants of original ammo bins found in a M1917 tank exhibited at the Virginia War Museum at Norfolk, VA. Upon completion, the tank was returned to the Pennsylvania Military Museum for exhibition.