Samuel Colt did not “invent” the handgun, the same way Apple didn’t “invent” the smartphone.  What they both did was put all the pieces together in such a way that, while they didn’t actually “invent” the thing, they actually kind of did.  Young Samuel always had an interest in mechanics, and would often disassemble items to see how they worked. In 1830, Colt was working on a steamship, where he became fascinated with the way the ship’s wheel worked. From that idea, he carved out a wooden prototype that would lead to his invention of a rotation-type firearm with a six-barrel cylinder.  The Colt .45. Colt patented his revolving-chamber pistol in Europe in 1835 and in the United States the following year. The idea was not immediately accepted, with gun owners unwilling to give up their trusted muskets and pistols. In 1836, he built his first plant in Paterson, New Jersey. At just 22 years old, he proved himself to be a savvy businessman and promoter, but slow sales forced him to turn his attentions elsewhere. In 1845, the U.S. government heard from its front-line militia that Colt’s firearm, a weapon that didn’t require constant reloading, was instrumental in defeating the Indians in Texas and Florida. The next year, at the start of the Mexican War, he and Army Captain Samuel H. Walker designed an even more effective weapon, “The Walker,” prompting the government to order 1,000 of these pistols—and Colt was back in business again. Colt pistols were the weapons of choice during the American Civil War, from 1861-’65, and the company’s .45- Peacemaker, introduced in 1873, became the most popular gun in the West. Colt revolvers were used during World War I and World War II.  Samuel Colt every bit as much as Henry Ford, pioneered modern manufacturing processes.

Colt has always aggressively marketed its’ products to the militaries of the world, seemingly viewing civilian sales as the sprinkles on top of the donut.  Colt had, for a very long time, the patent and contract on the M16, and the 1911. Colt also enjoyed great civilian and law enforcement success with their double action revolvers in the mid 20th century. Today Colt still makes the Colt Single Action Army, the official AR-15, 1911’s and a select few other models of revolvers and rifles.

Notable products –  Revolvers, Pistols, Rifles Colt Single Action Army, Colt 1911, Colt AR-15, Colt Python

The history and rivalry between Smith and Wesson and Colt  is much like the rivalry of Android/Samsung vs Apple. Each company seemingly driven to improve by the other.  It could easily be argued that neither S&W or Colt are responsible for the modern double action revolver separately, but together they deserve almost all the credit. Smith & Wesson’s history is very integral to the history of Winchester Repeating Arms and the original Henry Rifle.  S&W as we recognize it today was founded in 1852 and originally focusing on repeating rifles, specifically the Volcanic, which led to the Winchester and Henry rifles. By 1870 they were focused almost solely on revolvers. S&W were the original promoters and manufacturers of metallic cartridge revolvers (Colt’s revolvers were still cap and ball) and the US Military adopted the Model 3 as the first cartridge firing revolver in the US military service.  S&W armed the bulk of America’s law enforcement officers for most the 20th Century. It did so with a variety of revolvers, most chambered in .38 Special. S&W was behind the development of the .357 Magnum, and later the .44 Magnum. In 1965 the the Wesson family sold its’ controlling interest to Bangor Punta which used the S&W name on all kinds of associated products and merchandise marketed to Law Enforcement and the shooting community. This made them extremely profitable, and the association of Bangor Punta created step-sister companies in Brazil (Taurus and Rossi).  The 1990’s was a horrible decade for firearms manufacturers, and S&W was acquired by another holding company. As of the end of the first decade of the 21st century they were back in a good financial and well respected position. In addition to their continued success in the revolver market they have expanded into the Modern Sporting Rifle (2006) segment and their M&P line of Semi-auto pistols (debuted in 2005) is held in very high regard. The S&W Shield is most likely the current best selling pistol in the United States.

Notable Products: Primarily Revolvers and pistols, some rifles. All S&W Revolvers, M&P Semi Auto Pistols, S&W M&P Sport II Rifle.

Currently the oldest continuing manufacturer of firearms in the U.S., founded in 1816. Remington was and continues to be, primarily a Shotgun and Rifle manufacturer.  They were the main supplier of bolt action rifles to the Allied Powers in WWI. Russia signed huge contracts for arming the Imperial Russian Army, and when the Bolsheviks took over in 1917 they reneged on the whole thing, almost ruining Remington completely. This led to a business decision by Remington to focus more on sporting arms and only take certain Government contracts.  Remington has always been closely associated with the manufacture of ammunition, having partnerships and subsidiaries in the ammo business since the early decades of the company (Union Metallic Cartridge is the most notable) and has released more different cartridges than any other company. Probably most currently famous for the top selling model 870 pump shotgun and the famous Remington 700 bolt action rifle. They are currently going through a bankruptcy, but will likely re-organize their debt and be ok.  

Notable Products : Remington 870 Shotgun, Remington model 700 Bolt action rifles

Winchester has its’ roots in the same soil as Smith & Wesson, both companies were started by Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, but the duo was helped financially by a clothing manufacturer named Oliver Winchester.  The original product of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company did not succeed, but it spurred further design into lever action firearms and with a lever action designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry the Winchester Rifle put what would become Winchester on the map.  In the early 1900’s a gentleman by the name of Browning designed firearms many of which were bought and produced by Winchester. Winchester had probably the most popular bolt and lever action rifles as well as the most popular shotguns for the first half of the 20th Century.  Original Pre-1964 models of the Winchester Bolt Action Model 70 are still held in reverence today as is the Model 12 Pump Shotgun. After WWII they had too much capacity and not enough sales. They attempted to diversify too much leading to hardship. Rising labor costs and the intricacies and hand fitting requirements of their designs made it difficult for them to compete with newer, more manufacturing friendly, designs (of primarily Remington). Today after several fits and starts, Winchester is now a brand name owned by the Olin Corporation.   On the ammunition front many current and historical cartridges were developed by Winchester and later Olin-Winchester. Their legacy remains. Firearms are manufactured under this brand name, by license, by the highly respected Herstal Group which owns FN, Browning, and other brands.

Known for: Model 12 Shotgun, Lever Action Rifles, Winchester Model 70 Rifle

Since its beginnings in 1949, Sturm, Ruger & Company, known simply as Ruger, has become one of the leading firearms manufacturers in the world, producing more than 400 variations of over 30 different product lines. Alexander Sturm and William (Bill) Ruger – hence the name Sturm, Ruger and Co. – rented a small machine shop in Southport, Connecticut. Sturm, heir to a wealthy family, provided the modest  investment capital, while Ruger, who began designing guns as a student at the University of North Carolina, brought his firearms engineering ideas to the table. Ruger has built an empire on producing rugged, reliable firearms starting with the aforementioned Ruger Standard. However, the Ruger 10/22 is the world sales champ in the rimfire rifle market. Introduced in 1964, Bill Ruger’s slick-and-simple .22LR semiauto has become the archetype of a reliable rimfire rifle, sales of which are in excess of 6 million units. Ruger is one of the largest, possibly the largest, American manufacturers of firearms.. They’ve always been a superior gun manufacturer in a number of different ways.  Their customer service is regarded as among the best in the business. If you’re looking for a name you can trust and a reputation you can rely on, Ruger is as good an option as any.

Known for: Pistols, Revolvers, and Rifles; primarily the 10/22, Mark Series of .22 Pistols, Ruger No.1 rifle, Hawkeye, Redhawk, Blackhawk, LCP, Ruger AR556.


Taurus – Founded in Brazil in 1939, the company was purchased by Bangor Punta Corp in 1971, creating a step-sibling relationship with Smith and Wesson, the designs and engineering was a two way street between those companies for a number of years.  Taurus bought itself back out in 1977, later to partner with  and eventually purchase all of Beretta’s South American equipment and rights. In 1997 Taurus acquired fellow Brazilian arms maker Rossi. Taurus is mostly known for producing revolvers and pistols, as well as a few rifles.  Due to their lower labor cost, Taurus typically passes those lower costs to their consumers. They are a main line manufacturer of some very nice and often times innovative, products.

Known for Taurus Raging Bull and Taurus Judge Revolvers, full line of semi auto pistols.

Marlin’s trail has been rough and rocky in places, and at times, it didn’t look like Marlin would survive, but survive it did, and today’s shooters should count themselves as fortunate as Marlin came back strong to make some of the most popular leverguns of all time. John Mahlon Marlin was born in 1836 in Connecticut. Young John became a tool and die maker and during the Civil War started building guns for the Colt plant in Hartford. In 1870, he hung out his own shingle and founded Marlin Firearms Company in New Haven, Connecticut marketing single-shot brass framed derringers. In 1881Marlin introduced the Model 1881 lever-action repeating rifle. This was a well-built, accurate rifle, chambered for powerful hunting rounds like the .45-70. Marlin began competing for the same market niche that Winchester had created with the Model 1876. Marlin’s notable side eject feature was unveiled a few years with the Model 1889, the first levergun to have a solid top and eject the empties out of the side of the receiver (the origin of the term “Marlin Safety”), instead of out the top (like Winchester leverguns).

The beloved Marlin 39A .22 lever action is considered the longest continuously manufactured rifle in the world (production was briefly suspended from 1917-1922 for the War effort). Over 3 million have been sold. The most famous Marlin model though is probably the Model 336 chambered in .30-30. Marlin changed hands several times in the 20th century but has been part of the Freedom Group for many years now making it a sister company to Remington.

Known For: Marlin 336 Lever Action, Marlin model 39 Rimfire.

Benjamin Tyler Henry invented The Henry Rifle which predates the Winchester lever gun.  THe Henry Rifle was a direct predecessor to the original Volcanic Rifle. It was the original rifle you could “load on Saturday and shoot all week.”  It was never produced on a large scale but was very influential and made its’ mark. Eventually the Henry led to the Winchester model 1866 Lever action rifle, and the company was renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.   The company that now uses the name Henry has no direct connection to the original except in Spirit. The modern Henry Repeating Arms company is in the Top 5 of long gun manufacturers and is THE leading lever action rifle manufacturer today.  It was founded in 1996 by father and son duo Louis and Anthony Imperator in Brooklyn New York. Their Motto is “Made in America and Priced Right”, and they are indeed made in the USA and are competitively priced, remarkable especially considering the excellent quality of their offerings.  They have a fantastic reputation for customer service. If you are in the mood for a very nice lever gun you deserve to try one out.

Like many firearms manufacturers Savage has a rich and turbulent history.  It all started when Arthur Savage came to the United States from Jamaica and began a career as a firearms designer.  He developed the rotary magazine and a side eject lever action rifle. This design became the Savage 99. He then branched out into pocket pistols and later grew to be one of the largest civilian arms makers in the market..  During the two big wars Savage did their part in the efforts making machine guns for aircraft and other weapons. Afterwards Savage acquired Stevens and Fox becoming one of the largest gun manufacturers in the world. Like many of their contemporaries they had some difficulty after the second world war returning to normal production volumes  which led to decades of financial trouble and bankruptcy in 1988. The company was revived in 1989, the facilities were modernized, and the products improved.  The Savage 110 rifle, inexpensive yet freakishly accurate, saved the company.  The latest big innovation was their revolutionary Accu-trigger which many manufacturers have now copied. Savage is now considered the makers of some of the most accurate, and affordable rifles on the market. Savage maintains its headquarters in Westfield, Massachusetts, USA.  

Known for: primarily the Savage 110/111 Bolt action rifles they also produce several other products, some under their Stevens brand name.

 

Mossberg (O.F. Mossberg & Sons) began as a Father/Son firearm design and manufacturing team in 1919 in a rented loft.  Unlike most other manufacturers Mossberg thrived during the great depression, selling more than one million firearms, and employing over 300 workers.  It is, and was, a family run company; the current CEO is the grandson of the founder. In 1962 Mossberg released the fastest selling pump shotgun in history.  Produced for over 50 years now, and having sold more than 10 million copies; the Mossberg 500 is at the top of the heap when it comes to pump shotguns. The closest competitor is the Remington 870, and no one can choose which is better or more popular.  In the last few years Mossberg has brought many innovations to the marketplace, the FLEX modular system, shockwave shotguns, and inexpensive .22 Rimfire rifles. The latest home run the company has made is the Patriot line of bolt action rifles which are very reasonably priced, attractive, and accurate; exemplifying the “More Gun for the Money” company motto.  They also sell a value line of very popular shotguns called the Maverick 88, which are incredibly similar to the Mossberg 500 but are assembled in Mexico, unlike the rest of their Made in the USA products. Despite having a logo that looks like a European flag, Mossberg is an American company and even better: 90% of all O.F. Mossberg & Sons shotguns and rifles are produced at their Eagle Pass, Texas facility.

Known for: Model 500 Shotgun, Patriot line of Bolt action rifles, .22 Rimfire Rifles.

 

In 1980 the Austrian Army sent out its’ list of requirements for a duty pistol to replace its WW2 era Walther P38 pistols.  The project had all the major players, highly respected names in the firearms industry with decades of excellent products. So when the entrants to the tests were announced there was Steyr, H&K, Sig, Beretta, and something called a Glock.  Gaston Glock, a small time military contractor who made knives and plastic stuff, at the age of 52, decided why not make a pistol? Without knowing much at all about guns he began his research and consulted with experts; 17 prototypes later he had the Glock 17.  It beat all the usual suspects with ease and became the new Austrian military sidearm. the G17 was a little too large for a lot of users, but the G19 was slightly smaller and was an even bigger hit than the G17. Every semi-auto handgun of the 21st century has been benchmarked against Glock, and it is doubtful that will change. Around 50% of the pistols used throughout the United States by Law Enforcement agencies are Glocks.  The reason is they are utterly reliable, easy to maintain, and generally affordable.

 

Known for – popularizing polymer striker fired pistols most notably the Glock 17 & 19

 

Around 1860 the Scweizerishe Waggon Fabrik (Swiss Wagon Factory) developed a rifle that won the contract for the Swiss Army, at which time SWG became Schwwizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG). What is now known in the United States as SIGARMS began in 1976 as a partnership between  SIG and J.P Sauer & Sohn of Germany. Through some twists and turns there are now two companies working together, a US based one and the other in Germany. Early Sig designs were marketed by Browning, but by 1980 they were sold with their own name on the firearms. According to SIG Sauer, one-third of US police use SIG firearms.  As of 2017 SIG was awarded the contract to supply the new sidearm for the US Military. Sig is regarded as having unparalleled quality control and excellence in design, ergonomics, and reliability.

 

Known for – Excellent tactical pistols and rifles

 

Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (French for National Factory of Weapons of War) was established in the small town of Herstal Belgium in 1889 to manufacture Mauser rifles for the Belgian Government.  It is currently the largest exporter of military small arms in Europe and until recently was the main supplier of M16s to the US Army. Back in 1897 the company entered into a long-lasting relationship with John M. Browning.  His name is probably much more familiar to you. Browning is probably the greatest firearm inventor of the 20th century. Unlike other firearms inventors who also wanted to be manufacturers; Browning never seemed to want to be a manufacturer, instead he was a designer and inventor who worked on contract or simply sold his designs to to other manufacturers.  As such many of his designs do not share his name. Remington, Winchester, and others all manufactured guns that Browning designed, but his most lasting relationship was with FN Herstal. Currently the Herstal group owns US Repeating Arms Company (Winchester) and Browning Arms Co. FN Herstal firearms are used by the militaries of over 100 countries.

Known for – Excellent pistols and rifles

Following World War II Omark Industries of Portland Oregon purchased the Australian firearms manufacturer Sportco.  Sportco’s Australian founder, Jack Warne, moved to Oregon as a result. Several years later Kimber was founded as “Kimber of Oregon” in 1979 by Jack and his son Greg Warne.  There have been several ownership changes in its’ history. Currently Kimber is privately owned by Les Edelman. The company is no longer located in Oregon having moved to the east coast during the 1990’s  in Yonkers, New York. Kimber is most notable for building high end, excellently crafted, highly customizable 1911 style pistols using states of the art modern manufacturing processes. Kimber claims that their pistols are manufactured to higher tolerances and closer clearances than many of their competitors.  More recently they have produced 3 models of bolt action hunting rifles and a concealed carry .357 revolver, the K6S. Several SWAT teams and select military units are authorized to carry Kimber firearms.

Known for – Primarily 1911 style pistols, hunting rifles.

Nighthawk – The history of Nighthawk Customs starts with the History of Wilson Combat.  Wilson’s Gun Shop was founded in Berryville AR in 1977 by Bill Wilson in the back of the family jewelry store.  Wilson started out by customizing customer supplied 1911 and Ruger Blackhawk revolvers. In 2003 several of the gunsmiths from Wilson Combat left to focus exclusively on custom built pistols.  Still located in Berryville AR the new company was named Nighthawk Customs and has become one of the elite firearms manufacturers in the US. Nighthawk makes some of the slickest looking and highest quality pistols in the industry and has a stellar reputation for customer service.  Now Nighthawk not only builds custom 1911 pistols but has turned its’ manufacturing expertise into producing many parts in house and branching out to Custom Shotguns, Knives, and an improved version of the Browning Hi Power.

 

Known for: High end custom 1911’s & Hi Powers

 

SCCY(Pronounced “sky”) was formed in 2003 by Joe Roebuck. Roebuck, an engineer and veteran tool and die maker, along with some other top talent from a company whose name rhymes with Block, set out to design and build a concealed carry pistol for the Everyman.  SCCY has two motto’s “The King of Concealed Carry” and “When it comes to value, SCCY’s the limit”. SCCY prides itself on being 100% American Made, and offered with a transferable lifetime warranty at a price that is affordable to virtually anyone. The company also offers pistols in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Since 2010, the company manufactures all firearms in a in a spotlessly clean ultra modern factory located in Daytona Beach, Florida. Roebuck is still very hands-on with the manufacturing design process and day to day operation of his company.  Currently, sales and marketing is based in Acworth, Georgia. All parts of the CPX-1 pistol, except for the springs, are manufactured in-house by SCCY.

 

Known for: Affordable CCW Pistols

 

What became Weatherby firearms started in a small storefront sporting goods store in Southern California in 1945. Back then African safaris were considered an extreme sport. Most Americans could only dream of experiencing the mysterious world of the kudu, elephant, zebra and rhinoceros. Roy Weatherby’s 50-day hunting sojourn in 1948, which he chronicled on newsreel footage and brought back to the states, gave Americans rare, real-life glimpses of exotic lands and big game never before seen. This vision was forever entwined with his eventual products.  By 1961 the store had moved into a much larger store that was headquarters, retail space, and a 100 yard underground range. Designing rifle cartridges changed Roy Weatherby’s life, defined him professionally, resulted in his characterization as a groundbreaker and free thinker, and positively impacted the firearms industry. There are two competing schools of thought, especially back then, on what made a good cartridge, was a it a fast small bullet, or large, relatively slower bullet. Roy Weatherby loved fast cartridges. Like a 50’s era hotrodder, if a fast cartridge was released, he wanted to know how much more was possible.  He began “wildcatting” and putting his special touch on a lot of cartridges that he named Weatherby Magnums. They were (and in most cases still are) the hottest thing on the market, and to house his proprietary designs he developed his own bolt action to go along with them. The Weatherby Mark V is a beautifully engineered weapon. By 1970 he had attracted enough of a following that he released the Vanguard Rifle which put a Weatherby touch on a rifle chambered for more sedate cartridges. Today, Weatherby’s industry-leading performance spans more than 70 innovative years and 3 generations of family leadership. Virtually every person working at the company are hunters or shooters and their intimate connection to market is evident in the product offerings and level of customer service provided.

Known For:  The Mark V action and the Weatherby Vanguard, as well as Weatherby Magnum cartridges.

SAKO/Tikka- Finland declared independence from the Russian Empire in 1917, two years later the Suojeluskuntain Yliesikunnan Asepaja (Civil Guard Supreme Staff Gun Works) opened in a former brewery to repair private rifles and recondition Russian military rifles for Finnish service. The rifle repair shop became financially independent of the civil guard in 1921. The Suojeluskuntain Yliesikunnan Asepaja moved from Helsinki to an ammunition factory in Riihimäki on 1 June 1927. Another Finnish firearms manufacturer Tikkakoski, which owned the Tikka brand, was merged into SAKO in 1983.  After further organizational shifts in state ownership, the company was sold in 2000 to the Italian company Beretta. SAKO does one thing, they build very fine, bolt action, sporting rifles, comparable to the products of Weatherby Mark V, and other premium offerings.  SAKO does not make semi-auto rifles, nor does it make shotguns, or handguns. They do one thing, and they do it well. SAKO rifles are guaranteed to shoot MOA or better. Their rifles use a hybrid style feed that blends elements of the Mauser CRF style with the Remington Push Feed style.  The Tikka is a subsidiary brand of SAKO representing a slightly more budget conscious consumer, and they have a great reputation for accuracy, many hunters who know about such things claim the Tikka is as nice a rifle, and the best factory trigger, you can get for the money.

Known For: SAKO 75, 85, and the Tikka T3

Howa – Many U.S. casual consumers might not realize that Japan has a long and excellent history of manufacturing firearms. US customers are aware, however, of the Japanese reputation for high standards of quality and value.  Howa’s products are no different. Howa has been around since 1907 and in the firearm business since 1940. They have made everything from Arisakas and AR-180s to rocket launchers and flamethrowers. Howa manufactures components for other firearm companies such as Mossberg, S &W, and Weatherby.  In fact the Howa 1500 and the Weatherby Vanguard are basically identical twins. Due to Howan being contracted by SAKO back in the day, The Howa 1500 has some SAKO DNA. Howa branded products are imported to the US by Legacy Sports International. The Howa 1500 is a push feed, center fire rifle action mated to a button rifled barrel. Built in Japan the 1500 seems to combine elements of two of the best selling rifles of all time: the Remington 700 and the Winchester Model 70..  The 1500 is available as a complete rifle or just a barreled action. The Howa action is a favorite of custom gun builders because of its’ design characteristics, and Howa sells its actions specifically to cater to this demand if that is what you want to do.. This is a great option for the shooter looking to “build” a custom rifle without involving a machine shop. Buy the action, bed it to the stock of your choice, presto! You have a custom chassis rifle. Of course, their complete rifles are one of the top value options on the market as well.

Known for: The Howa 1500 action and rifle.

CZ- USA – In 1918, several former members of the Austro-Hungarian military service assumed a controlling interest in the Austro-Hungarian armament shop in Brno, Czechoslovakia, renaming it Státní zbrojovka a strojírna v Brno (State Armament and Engineering Works of Brno).  Prior to 1924, this firm was involved mainly with the legendary Mauser Model 98-type rifles (both assembly and manufacturing). Around 1923, pistol manufacture was transferred from Brno to Ceská Zbrojovka, Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod, or ČZUB, was first established in 1936 in the small Moravian town of Uherský Brod in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. The decision was made with the aim of moving the manufacturing of firearms further away from the (Then Nazi) German border. After World War II, due to Soviet annexation of Czechoslovakia, all the firearms manufacturers were managed by a single central agency which required that “any firearm exported will bear the BRNO markings”; this is why many ČZUB firearms, even those made in Uherský Brod or Strakonice, bear BRNO markings. In 1991, with the fall of the Soviets,  the Czech weapons factories were “de-centralized” and in 1992, Česká zbrojovka , Uherský Brod (CZUB) became private, moving into the free world economy and eventually establishing a small arms presence in over 90 countries.  In 1997 ČZUB established a permanent presence in the United States with the founding of CZ-USA.  CZ has always produced very high quality firearms, and since the fall of the Soviet Bloc we, in the former NATO Aligned countries can enjoy them.  CZ is a full line manufacturer, producing excellent handguns, shotguns, and especially rifles. CZ-USA’s HQ is in Kansas City Missouri.

Known for: CZ 75 Pistol, among many others, Mauser style rifles, and shotguns.

Browning – The company that bears the name of the greatest firearms designer the world has ever known is a brand name under the FN Herstal Group (along with Winchester).  FN Herstal of Belgium is another excellent European firearms maker, that brands itself as the maker of The World’s Most Battle-Proven Firearms. Remember, It isn’t bragging if you can back it up & FN Herstal can back it up. The FN FAL battle rifle is known as “the right arm of the free world.” J.M.Browning himself worked under contract of FN for much of his career, the FN Browning partnership goes back to 1897.  FN and by extension Browning is a truly international operation. Some of its’ products are made in Miroku, Japan, while others are made in FN Herstal factories located in Belgium, Portugal, or in the United States. Browning Rifles, Browning Shotguns, and of course Browning Pistols are second to none in design and quality.

Known for: Browning Buckmark, Hi-Power, Shotguns and A-Bolt & X-Bolt rifles