SIC 3484
SMALL ARMS



This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing small firearms or parts for small firearms. Small firearms, defined as having a bore of 30 millimeters (mm) or less, include pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, and submachine guns. This category also includes establishments that manufacture weapons with bores greater than 30 mm but that nevertheless are carried and employed by individuals, including grenade launchers and heavy field machine guns. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing artillery and mortars having bores greater than 30 mm are classified in SIC 3489: Ordnance and Accessories, Not Elsewhere Classified.

NAICS Code(s)

332994 (Small Arms Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

In 2002 there were approximately 400 gun makers in the United States, which together generated annual sales of approximately $1.38 billion. Nearly all of the major gun manufacturers in the United States were privately owned companies; the only public company was Sturm, Ruger & Co.

Historically, the small-arms industry has been cyclical and subject to many external pressures, including the general state of the economy, worldwide military conflicts, and public and political vagaries concerning private ownership of firearms. For example, gun sales increased during 1999 as the nation prepared for the Y2K bug. There was generalized fear that computers would not roll over correctly to the year 2000, thus creating havoc with many of the nation's economic and political infrastructures. Although the fears proved unfounded, many prepared for the uncertain times by buying a gun. Gun sales rose again in the days following the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001. In both cases, gun marketers sold their products to many first-time gun owners. Gun makers also continued ongoing battles in court into the 2000s over liability issues related to criminal use of guns.

Organization and Structure

Many small-arms companies began operation in the late nineteenth century in the Connecticut River Valley between Hartford and Springfield, Massachusetts, which soon became known as Gun Valley because of its concentration of armories. Because of this long tradition, several small-arms companies that no longer had manufacturing facilities in Gun Valley maintained headquarters there at the start of the twenty-first century.

Following the Great Depression, many surviving small-arms companies diversified or were purchased by large corporations. The trend toward amalgamation reversed itself in the 1980s when two of the largest corporations in the industry, Colt Industries and the Olin Corp., divested themselves of poorly performing firearms divisions to form stand-alone companies. One of those new companies, the U.S. Repeating Arms Co., maker of Winchester rifles, was then sold to Belgian firearms conglomerate Fabrique Nationale Herstal, and then acquired by the French government-owned GIAT Industries. Fabrique Nationale and Italian firearms maker Pietro Beretta Fabbrica Amri also had large manufacturing facilities in the United States.

Background and Development

The small-arms industry played an important part in both the historical development of the United States and in the myths and ideals that accompanied that development. Early to mid-nineteenth-century guns pioneered the use of interchangeable standardized parts, the technology that gave rise to modern manufacturing. Moreover, guns bearing the names Remington, Winchester, and Colt were associated with the settlement of the Old West, Manifest Destiny, and the development of the United States as a world power.

Although many prominent craftsmen produced firearms in colonial America, gun making as an industry did not truly begin until 1775, when the Continental Congress established the Committee of Safety, whose responsibilities included ensuring that the Continental Army had sufficient firearms. The Committee of Safety established specifications for manufacturing flintlock muskets and awarded contracts to various American gun makers. In 1794 Congress established a national armory at Springfield, Massachusetts that stored and manufactured muskets for military use. A second armory was established at Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1796. The armory at Harper's Ferry would eventually be burned in 1861 to keep it out of the hands of Confederate forces. The Springfield armory was in operation until 1975.

In 1808, as tensions mounted between the United States and England (which would eventually erupt into the War of 1812), the federal armories tooled up to manufacture 40,000 muskets a year. Private gun makers were also awarded contracts to manufacture between 2,500 and 10,000 muskets each, with the goal of supplying nearly 100,000 militiamen. The federal armories provided "pattern" muskets for the private manufacturers to copy.

Early Innovators. One of the earliest gun makers to receive a government contract was Eli Whitney, best known as the inventor of the cotton gin, who had established an armory in New Haven, Connecticut in 1798. Whitney was a Yale-educated engineer who realized that the most efficient and cost-effective way to make guns was to manufacture interchangeable parts that could then be assembled by unskilled workers. Although Whitney was far from being the most successful gun maker of the day, he amazed government officials who were inspecting his plant by assembling muskets from parts chosen at random. Whitney was the first U.S. industrialist to manufacture interchangeable parts and was considered the father of mass production long before Henry Ford began building cars. By the 1850s, Whitney's "American System" of manufacturing was known throughout Europe. The Whitney Armory continued to manufacture guns until 1888.

Although rifles were invented in the early 1500s and the famous Pennsylvania-made Kentucky rifles were used by some militiamen during the American Revolution, smoothbore muskets remained common into the early nineteenth century. Despite their inaccuracy, they were easier to load and fire than a firearm with a rifled barrel. Then, in 1810, an American gunsmith, John H. Hall, invented a breech-loading flintlock rifle that could be loaded quickly using a paper cartridge containing ball and powder. The U.S. Army ordered 200 rifles in 1818 for experimentation, and Hall supervised their construction at the federal armory at Harper's Ferry. The rifles performed well, but the military continued to rely on muskets up until the Civil War. Although the Springfield Armory did not begin manufacturing rifles until 1858, it produced more than 840,000 by the end of 1865. On the other hand, hunters and frontiersmen who favored accuracy switched to breech-loading rifles much sooner. The 200 Hall rifles built in 1818 were also the first firearms manufactured in a government armory using interchangeable parts.

Samuel Colt. Samuel Colt was the first great American gun maker. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814 and left school at the age of 10 to work in his father's silk mill in Ware, Massachusetts. At the age of 16, he joined the crew of a ship bound for London and Calcutta. In London, Colt apparently saw a display of early attempts at designing repeating firearms. During the voyage home, and possibly inspired by the ship's clutch-controlled rotating capstan, he whittled a crude wooden model of a pistol with a revolving cylinder.

Between 1832 and 1835, Colt financed development of his revolving pistol as a lecturer and "practical chemist," billing himself as "the celebrated Dr. S. Colt of London and Calcutta" and giving demonstrations of laughing gas in the United States and Canada. He sent money and ideas for improvements in his design to John Pearson, a Baltimore gunsmith, who created a working model. Colt received patents on his design from England and France in 1835, and from the United States in 1836. The most unique feature of Colt's design was a ratchet that rotated and locked the cylinder in place when the gun was cocked.

Colt established the Patent Arms Manufacturing Co. in Paterson, New Jersey in 1836 to produce revolving pistols and rifles. The head of U.S. Army Ordnance, however, was not impressed with a demonstration, and the company failed to receive a military contract. Although the army eventually did order about 100 rifles and a few five-shot revolvers for fighting the Seminole Indians in Florida, Colt was forced to close down his company in 1842.

At the start of the Mexican War in 1846, General Zachary Taylor, who had used an early Paterson-model Colt revolver, asked Colt for 1,000 revolvers to be delivered within three months. Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers, who had used Colt revolvers to fight the Comanches, also asked for guns, but he wanted a larger caliber revolver that would fire six shots. Colt designed a gun to Walker's specifications, but without a factory of his own, Colt subcontracted the manufacturing to Eli Whitney Jr., who was then running the armory his father had founded and was the army's primary contractor for muskets. Colt, however, personally supervised the manufacturing. The .44 caliber six-shooter became known as the Walker gun. Tragically, Walker was killed in action four days after he received a set of Walker-model revolvers from Colt.

In 1847 the army ordered another 1,000 revolvers and Colt set up the renamed Colt's Patent Arms Manufacturing Co. in a leased space in his hometown of Hartford. He also hired a talented machinist, Elisha K. Root, to manage the operation. Root, who received twice the salary he had made at a farm-implements company, was given a free hand in setting up the factory. He designed belt-driven machinery for turning gun stocks, boring rifling barrels, and making cartridges. Under Root's direction, the Colt armory became a showplace for Eli Whitney's American System.

In 1853 Colt became the first American manufacturer to establish a foreign branch when he opened a factory on the Thames River in London to supply guns to the British government. Colt became known as gun maker to the world and successfully defended his patents against infringement until they expired in 1856. When he died six years later, a new factory he had built in Hartford in 1855 was the largest private armory in the world, and Colt was one of the wealthiest men in America with an estate valued at $15 million.

Gatling, Maxim, and Browning. The Civil War was the proving ground for many advances in firearms and ordnance, including the famous Sharpes carbine, more than 80,000 of which were produced for Northern troops by the Sharpes Rifle Manufacturing Co. But no development was more dramatic than the introduction of the first practical machine gun, patented in 1862 by Richard J. Gatling.

Gatling was the son of a North Carolina planter who spent most of his career improving agricultural methods and inventing farm machinery. Gatling's hand-cranked machine gun actually performed erratically during the Civil War, but with some mechanical improvements the design was officially adopted by the U.S. Army in 1866. He later sold his patent to the Colt's Patent Arms Manufacturing Co.

In 1884, another American-born inventor, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, developed the first semiautomatic rifle, when he modified a Winchester rifle so the power of the recoil would eject the spent cartridge and load the next round. In 1889 Maxim also developed the first fully automatic machine gun. Maxim's designs were adopted by every major power in the world between 1900 and World War I. English models of the Maxim machine gun, known as the Vickers, were used by both sides in World War II, and the North Koreans employed outdated Maxim machineguns in the Korean War.

Maxim also experimented with internal combustion engines, steam-powered flight, and electric lights, losing a critical patent lawsuit to Thomas Edison. A native of Maine, Maxim moved to England and became a British citizen in 1900. He was knighted in 1901. His son, Hiram Percy Maxim, invented the silencer, which mutes the report of a gunshot.

John M. Browning, the son of a Utah gunsmith, was the most prolific and successful American gun designer in history. He developed one of the earliest semi-automatic pistols and the first gas-operated machine gun. Browning sold or licensed most of his designs to the Colt's Patent Arms Manufacturing Co., including several machine-gun designs. He also licensed designs to the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., including the first lever-action rifle strong enough to use the high-power center fire cartridges of the day. This rifle, named Model 1886, made Winchester the best-known name among American rifle makers.

In 1888, when no American companies expressed interest in his semiautomatic pistol, Browning licensed the design to the Belgian gun-making firm of Fabrique Nationale Herstal. He also licensed the Browning name for use outside of North America. Browning and Nationale Fabrique later collaborated on some of the most famous firearms in history, including the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, used during World War I and World War II. Fabrique Nationale purchased controlling interest in Browning Arms in 1977.

Browning also designed the first successful gasoperated machine gun. In 1890 he sold the design to Colt, which produced the Colt Machine Gun Model 1895, the first fully automatic machine gun used by U.S. military forces. In 1990 Colt also became the first U.S. company to produce an automatic pistol, also based on a Browning design.

In the late 1990s, a rash of school shootings—from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Littleton, Colorado, and from Fort Gibson, Oklahoma to Conyers, Georgia—put the handgun industry itself on the firing line. In the 1999, 28 U.S. cities, as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, filed suits against U.S. gun manufacturers based on the much-debated theory that gun makers bear responsibility for gun violence. Moreover, the push to install new federal legislation, including limits on gun sales, mandatory background checks for all gun-show purchases, and the so-called "smart gun" technology, a safety device that allows only the owner to fire the weapon, gained momentum.

The late 1990s brought bad news for gun manufacturers. "Not since George Washington established the Springfield (Mass.) Armory to defend the young republic," wrote William C. Symonds in Business Week , "has the American gun industry faced a more serious crisis." The influence that gun lobbies once wielded with national and state lawmakers eroded amid rising public concern about gun violence. Gun-control advocates worked to channel public outrage at increased school and workplace shootings, combined with gun accidents by children, into a Congressional mandate.

The new gun-control efforts were much stronger than previous ones. In the Business Press , Adam Eventov reported that, in May 1999, the Senate passed a bill "that would close loopholes in the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, tighten background checks at gun shows, outlaw the importation of large-capacity clips, require safety locks on new handguns and prohibit juveniles convicted of felonies from owning firearms as adults." State legislatures were also enacting tougher laws. In California, a formerly firearm-friendly state, initiatives to require manufacturers to install new safety devices and meet stricter performance standards, such as a handgun being able to survive a three-foot drop, were proposed.

Ironically, however, the likelihood of stricter regulations actually spurred gun sales in 1999, as consumers tried to stock up before the new laws took effect. A similar spike occurred during 1993 and 1994, when President Bill Clinton made gun control a national priority. The 1993 Brady Bill called for a five-day waiting period (and background check) before a customer could purchase a handgun. In 1994 Congress passed a law banning 19 types of assault weapons. But due in part to the effective lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA), these laws contained numerous loopholes that allowed gun manufacturers to sidestep the regulations. By making minor design changes on their weapons, gun manufacturers were able to continue manufacturing and selling assault weapons. A three-year sales slump followed in which production fell more than 30 percent.

The legislative action told only part of the story. Gun makers were also facing an onslaught of litigation. The success of class-action lawsuits against tobacco giants inspired similar product liability claims against gun manufacturers. By December 1999, some 28 cities had filed suit against the handgun industry, seeking compensation for the costs associated with gun violence and pushing for reforms in the industry's marketing practices. But gun makers said they were not responsible for criminal misuse of their products. In the New York Times , Barry Meier cited New York University Law School professor Stephen Gillers as saying that the cause-and-effect legal claim that underpinned the gun cases appeared far weaker than in the tobacco lawsuits. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs were likely to win by default, as the cost of the litigation would drive gun companies out of business and gun costs out of the reach of most consumers.

Gun companies responded to the hostile environment in a variety of ways. Some companies, such as Colt Manufacturing, Smith & Wesson, and Mossberg, entered into settlement talks; others, backed by the 2.9 million-member NRA, refused to compromise. In 1999 four small companies filed for bankruptcy protection. Several large manufacturers were working to develop codes of conduct for gun distributors and dealers. In addition, gun companies were developing new marketing strategies, such as targeting women, and diversifying their product lines by adding items such as titanium golf club heads and specialty clothing.

Current Conditions

Gun sales soared during the days that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Women, in particular, increased gun purchases, and record numbers signed up for gun safety and handling classes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a 21-percent increase in background checks, required for gun purchases, in the months following the attacks. In Maryland, where gun ownership had been curtailed by strict gun laws, gun sales were up 50 to 75 percent in early October 2001, and the Texas Department of Public Safety reported a surge in applications to carry concealed weapons.

It is not uncommon for gun sales to follow the ups and downs of the American psyche, but the gun industry's main concern continues to be legal and legislative in nature. In October 2002 two snipers randomly killed 10 people and injured three in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, setting the entire nation on edge as police sought the killers for weeks. As in the past, the violence put the gun industry in the hot seat once more. In the waning days of the Clinton Administration, gun control issues were being pushed but to little avail in the Republican-controlled Congress.

In 2003 the gun industry found new hope with new allies in Washington. Legislation passed in April 2003 in the House of Representatives—and with a majority support lined up in the Senate—would go a long way to protecting gun manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers from any "unlawful misuse" of weapons. The legislation has been met with cheers by the industry and outrage by gun control lobbyists.

Industry Leaders

Remington Arms Co., Inc. Remington, once owned by a Delaware holding company, DuPont Chemical and Energy Operations, Inc., was sold to Raci Holding in the early 2000s. The company transferred its headquarters from Wilmington, Delaware to Rockingham County, North Carolina in 1995. In the mid-1990s, it built new facilities in Kentucky and North Carolina, organized a shooting school in New York, and launched a Web site where customers could buy guns with the click of a mouse. In 1992 and 1996, Remington introduced a number of new handguns and rifles but discontinued its hunting apparel line in 1995. In 2002 Remington, now owned by Raci Holding, reported revenues of $383.1 million.

Remington traced its heritage to Eliphalet Remington, an early American gunsmith who produced his first flintlock rifle in 1816. Raised in Central New York, Remington purchased land along the Erie Canal in 1828 and established an armory. The town that developed around the armory became known as Remington's Corners until Eliphalet Remington insisted the town change the name to Ilion. Remington's manufacturing facilities were still in Ilion in 1993. The company was known as E. Remington & Sons during the Civil War. The Depression of 1884 forced the company into bankruptcy, but it was reorganized in 1888 as the Remington Arms Co. Du Pont purchased Remington in 1933.

Remington was considered a leader in introducing new technology and production techniques. After World War II, Remington began manufacturing parts that were interchangeable between models. The company also simplified the shape and design of many gun parts, which initially caused gun enthusiasts who were used to the elaborate showpieces of the past to treat newer Remington models with scorn. Some parts designed in the early 1950s were still being used on models introduced in the 1980s.

In the late 1980s, Remington became one of the first gun makers to install computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing equipment to reduce costs and increase its ability to respond to consumer trends. Paradoxically, the new manufacturing process produced parts by traditional machine tooling rather than stamping or casting, which most companies had turned to in the middle of the twentieth century to save money. The Remington plant in Ilion was considered one of the most advanced metalwork facilities in the United States.

O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. Oliver F. Mossberg was a Swedish immigrant who worked for several U.S. gun makers before he began making .22 caliber "novelty guns" in his spare time to put his sons, Iver and Harold, through college. In 1919 the Mossbergs formed O.F. Mossberg & Sons. Between 1919 and 1932, they produced about 37,000 .22 caliber "Brownie" pistols. They began manufacturing .22 caliber rifles in 1922. Oliver Mossberg died in 1937.

The company continued to produce .22 caliber pistols and rifles after World War II, but also expanded into bolt-action shotguns. The first pump-action Mossberg shotguns were introduced in 1957. In 1986 Mossberg ended production of all rifles and pistols to concentrate solely on shotguns. Mossberg shotguns were widely used in law enforcement and the military. Mossberg claimed to be the oldest family-owned and operated firearms manufacturer in the United States. In 1993 Alan I. Mossberg, grandson of the founder, was president and CEO.

U.S. Repeating Arms Co., Inc. The U.S. Repeating Arms Co. (USRAC) was a major manufacturer of shotguns and rifles under the legendary Winchester brand name. In 1991 USRAC produced more than 126,000 shotguns and 113,000 rifles, generating revenues of $74 million. The company was owned by GIAT Industries, a private company wholly owned by the French government. In 2002 the company reported revenues of $250 million.

Oliver F. Winchester founded the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. in New Haven, Connecticut in 1866. Winchester was a shirt maker by trade, but became involved in gun making when he purchased the assets of the defunct Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. Volcanic had been founded in 1855 by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson, later of Smith & Wesson fame. Winchester was an early investor in the company, which went bankrupt in 1857. The Winchester Model 1866 was the first successful lever-action-repeating rifle. Later models made the Winchester name synonymous with American-made rifles.

When the market for guns collapsed during the Great Depression, the Olin Corp. purchased Winchester. In 1981 a group of Olin employees purchased Olin's Winchester gun division in a leveraged buyout, calling the new company the U.S. Repeating Arms Co., and licensing the Winchester name from Olin. Unfortunately, gun sales in the United States plummeted in the early 1980s, and USRAC filed for bankruptcy. USRAC was then purchased in 1987 by a group of investors led by Fabrique Nationale, a Belgium gun maker and at one time the largest private arms company in the world. Fabrique Nationale became the sole owner in 1990 and was purchased by GIAT Industries in 1992.

Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. Sturm, Ruger & Co. was the only U.S. gun maker active in all four small-arms categories: rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and pistols. The largest manufacturer of handguns in the United States, it produced over 50 models of guns, which had more than 300 variations. In addition to guns, it also produced a line of specialized castings for industrial clients representing aerospace, automotive, medicine, and golf. Based in Southport, Connecticut, Sturm, Ruger employed a workforce of almost 1,400 in 2002 and reported revenues of $161.6 million.

Sturm, Ruger was founded in 1948 by William Batterman Ruger with a $50,000 stake from Alexander Sturm, a family friend and gun collector. Ruger had been a firearm designer for the U.S. government's Springfield Armory and the Auto Ordnance Corp. Sturm and Ruger started by manufacturing a .22 caliber semiautomatic target pistol designed by Ruger, but gained special favor with gun enthusiasts in the early 1950s when it began producing Old West-style six-shooters that capitalized on the popularity of adult TV Westerns. Sturm, Ruger also utilized a manufacturing process known as investment casting. Rather than machine-tooling parts for its guns, Sturm, Ruger cast parts from molten steel using the "lost wax" process. The parts were not only cheaper to produce, they were stronger. Since perfecting this process, Ruger cast parts for other manufacturers to the tune of $16 to $18 million annually or about 8 to 9 percent of sales. This figure jumped by nearly 70 percent in the first quarter of 1995, however, due to a large contract for titanium Big Bertha golf-club heads for Callaway Golf Co.

Between 1982 and 1992, when sales of small arms in the United States fell by almost 50 percent, Sturm, Ruger increased sales by nearly 75 percent. In 1986, Sturm, Ruger forced its distributors to choose between its guns and those made by Smith & Wesson. About half chose to stay with Sturm, Ruger. Between 1953 and 1972, Sturm, Ruger produced more than 1.5 million of the single-action revolvers patterned after the legendary 1873 Colt Peacemaker. Like the original Peacemaker, unfortunately, Sturm, Ruger six-shooters often discharged accidentally if the gun was dropped or if the hammer was struck. In 1994 for instance, 24 liability cases were tried, dismissed, or settled out of court. The average settlement was approximately $55,000.

Sturm, Ruger redesigned its single-action revolvers in 1972 to make them safer. In 1982 Sturm, Ruger offered to retrofit older models with a safety device at no cost to their owners; fewer than 10 percent of the 1.2 million old model revolvers were modified, however. The company also ran a series of advertisements from 1981 to 1983 urging gun owners to load revolvers with only five bullets and leave the hammer resting on an empty chamber.

By 1995 Barron's reported that Sturm, Ruger could boast of a "squeaky-clean" balance sheet, superb profit-ability and 45 years in business without a negative balance sheet. Sturm, Ruger continued to be profitable despite the antigun mood of much of America because most of its customers were hunters, law enforcement personnel, gun collectors, and sportsmen. Ruger also survived the "assault weapons" legislation as all of its products were exempted and named "legitimate sporting firearms." In 1999 the company boasted that it not only led the industry in new technology, but it also stressed safety and responsibility in its catalogs and advertising more so than other gun makers.

Marlin Firearms Co. The privately owned Marlin Firearms, a leading maker of .22 caliber rifles, had revenues of $50 million in 1996. Marlin was founded in New Haven, Connecticut in 1870 by John Mahlon Marlin, who had worked for the Colt's Patent Firearms Co. during the Civil War. After 100 years at the same site, the company opened up a new plant a few miles away in North Haven, Connecticut. Trick-shooter Annie Oakley used a specially made Marlin Model 1889 in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show in the 1890s. Marlin was also known for its Colt-Browning machine guns and military rifles made during World War I, when it was known as the Marlin Rockwell Corp. After the war, Rockwell had no interest in sporting guns and auctioned off the firearms division. Frank Kenna, whose family owned and operated Marlin Firearms into the 1990s, purchased the business for $100. In addition to firearms, Marlin produced razor blades from 1936 until the 1960s.

Smith & Wesson Corp. Smith & Wesson was the leading manufacturer of small arms in the United States in 2002, and the second largest producer of hand guns (behind Sturm, Ruger). Smith & Wesson's most popular revolver was the .38 Special, widely used by police officers, both in the United States and abroad. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police carried 9 mm Smith & Wesson pistols. The company also manufactured the .44 Magnum revolver used by Clint Eastwood in the "Dirty Harry" movies. In the late 1980s Smith & Wesson became a leader in the emerging market for handguns designed especially for women, with the Lady Smith. The Lady Smith was a .357 Magnum with a grip and trigger mechanism designed for smaller hands. Many women's magazines refused to run ads for Lady Smith when it was introduced in 1988.

Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson formed their first partnership in 1851, creating the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co., which they later sold to Oliver F. Winchester. In 1856, when the Colt patents expired, Wesson developed a revolver that used a metallic rim-fire cartridge. He and Smith then formed Smith & Wesson in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1856. Smith retired from the business in 1873, but Wesson and his descendants continued to run the company until 1967, when it was purchased by the Bangor Punta Corp. In 1984 the company became part of the Lear Siegler Holdings Corp. Lear Siegler eventually sold the company to F.H. Tompkins PLC, a British manufacturer of plumbing supplies and lawn mowers, in 1987. In 2002 the company had revenues of $70.7 million.

Colt Manufacturing Co. At one time the largest and most important gun maker in the United States, the Colt Manufacturing Co. was a relatively small maker of rifles and pistols in the early 1990s, producing 70,000 pistols and 38,000 rifles in 1991. Colt was owned by an investment group that included the United Auto Workers union and the state of Connecticut. Colt reported $75.8 million in sales in 2001.

Colt's Patent Arms Manufacturing Co., founded by inventor Samuel Colt in 1847, provided the Union Army with more than 107,000 revolvers during the Civil War. The famed Peacemaker, a six-shooter used in the Old West, was introduced in 1873 and manufactured continuously until 1941, and Colt produced commemorative Peacemakers after World War II.

The Colt family owned the company until 1901, when it was sold to a group of investors. The company suffered several setbacks in the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with its decision to stop manufacturing the Thompson submachine gun because it had become popular with gangsters. Nearly 2 million of the popular tommy guns, as they were called, were produced during World War II by another contractor. Ironically, 60 years later Colt ended production of the AR-15, a popular semiautomatic civilian model of the military's M-16, in part because it was being used by drug dealers.

Like most other small-arms manufacturers, Colt was hard hit by the Great Depression. Its difficulties were compounded by a violent strike in 1935, during which the home of its then-president Sam Stone was firebombed, and a hurricane in 1936, which destroyed most of what was left of the Colt Manufacturing Co. The company seemingly rebounded during World War II, but mismanagement later led to a financial crisis and manufacturing stopped altogether between 1945 and 1947.

In 1955 Colt was purchased by the Penn-Texas Corp., a corporate raider that was expected to dismantle the company. In 1962, a stockholders' revolt forced out Penn-Texas and the company was reorganized as Colt Industries. In 1963 Colt became the sole contractor for the army's new M-16 automatic assault rifle.

After nearly two decades of growth, during which Colt Industries became a diversified billion-dollar corporation, the Firearms Division suffered another series of market defeats in the 1980s. In 1985 the U.S. government dropped the Colt .45, standard military issue since 1911, and adopted a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, produced by the Beretta USA Corp., in its place. Then, in 1986, the United Auto Workers (UAW) struck the Colt plant in Hartford. Replacement workers were hired, but the lingering strike and concerns about quality might have caused Colt to lose the M-16 contract in 1988. (An order for 500,000 rifles went to FN Manufacturing, the American manufacturing subsidiary of Fabrique Nationale.)

In 1990, a group of investors that included the state of Connecticut purchased the Firearms Division from Colt Industries. The UAW agreed to end the strike in exchange for rehiring striking workers and an 11 percent share of the company. The division was renamed the Colt Manufacturing Co. The new owners almost immediately found themselves embroiled in an old controversy when Colt announced plans in 1991 to market a rifle similar to the discontinued AR-15. At the time, Connecticut, with a 47 percent stake in the company and $25 million of its employee pension funds at risk, was considering a ban on all assault-style rifles.

Further Reading

Buel, Stephen. "eBay Will End Online Auctions of Guns, Ammunition." Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News , 22 February 1999.

Cohen, Adam. "Where There's Smoke … The Siege of Big Tobacco and a Brooklyn Verdict Provide a Strategy to Take Aim at Gun Manufacturers." Time , 22 February 1999.

Dailey, John. "House Passes Bill Limiting Gunmakers' Liability." Nation's Cities Weekly , 14 April 2003, 2.

Eventov, Adam. "Ontario, Calif.-Area Gun Makers Face Litigation, Legislation." Business Press , 28 June 1999.

"Female Purchases of Guns on the Rise." Marketing to Women: Addressing Women and Women's Sensibilities , November 2001, 8.

"Gun Sales Soar." The New American , 19 November 2001, 5.

"Guns in America." Economist , 3 July 1999, 17-19.

Levin, Myron. "Gun Makers, Plaintiffs Discuss Settlement." Los Angeles Times , 28 September 1999.

McLeod, Douglas. "Gunmakers See More Equal Status." Business Insurance , 21 April 2003, 28.

Meier, Barry. "It Just Looks Like a Smoking Gun." New York Times , 12 December 1999.

Nicholas, Peter. "Philadelphia Mayor Schedules Meeting to Seek Compromise on Guns." Philadelphia Inquirer , 11 June 1999.

Prada, Paulo. "Making Bullets Airplane-Friendly is Tricky Job." The Wall Street Journal , 27 December 2001, B4.

Quindlen, Anna. "Tort Reform at Gunpoint." Newsweek , 5 May 2003, 72.

Rennen, Carol. "Radio, Guns, Ammo Hot Sellers in Wake of Terrorist Attacks." The Business Journal (Phoenix) , 14 September 2001, 46.

Symonds, William C., Lorraine Woellert, and Susan Garland. "Under Fire." Business Week , 16 August 1999.

U.S. Census Bureau. Statistics for Industry Groups and Industries: 2001 , January 2003. Available from http://www.census.gov .

Van Zwoll, Wayne. "Lock and Load." Outdoor Life , June-July 2002, 97-100.

Winchester and U.S. Repeating Arms Co. Web Site , December 1999. Available from http://www.winchester-guns.com .

Wolffe, Richard. "Mayors May Drop Action against Gun Group." Financial Times (London) , 8 June 1999.



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