Once a Giant: Remington Firearms By: Peter Suciu


In July 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic—at a time when gun sales were at record levels—one of America’s oldest firearms makers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. It was the second time since 2018 the two-century-old Remington Arms was forced to take such drastic action. Even with the restructuring, it faced ongoing legal and financial challenges.

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Model 1100 shotgun
Even the popularity of the Remington Model 1100 couldn’t save the company

Its sales never sufficiently rebounded after the company emerged from that first bankruptcy. As a result, America’s oldest gun manufacturer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy just days after the apparent collapse of talks between Remington and Navajo Nation, which had reportedly been seeking to purchase the firm’s assets and would have allowed Remington to shed its liabilities. According to court filings at the time, Remington estimated it had between 1,000 and 5,000 creditors and it had listed both assets and liabilities as being between $100 million and $500 million.

In its filing for bankruptcy in 2018, it cited declining sales during the so-called “Trump slump,” which occurred because President Donald Trump’s administration has been perceived to be pro-gun—especially when compared to the terms of former President Barack Obama, who was at times called the firearm industry’s best salesman.

In late 2020, the Remington Arms Company was broken into two companies—yet, it is important to remember that the storied firm had once been the largest U.S. producer of shotguns and rifles, but also had the distinction of having developed or adopted more cartridges than any other gun maker or ammunition maker in the entire world.

How It All Began

As with some of the other biggest names in American firearms, the company’s origins can be traced back to a part of the country that isn’t known today as being all that pro-Second Amendment. After the American Revolution, “Gun Valley” was the nickname given to Western Massachusetts and Connecticut—centered on the Connecticut River Valley, where most of the country’s firearms were produced. This region was home to the original Springfield Armory, which continued to produce small arms for the United States military until it was closed in the 1960s.

Gun Valley was also home to companies including Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Winchester.

However, another company had opened its doors a little further to the west when Samuel Colt was still in diapers, and decades before Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson formed their first partnership. While still deep in Yankee land, it was to become a company that would leave its mark on the entire nation.

Eliphalet Remington II
Company founder Eliphalet Remington II.

It began when Eliphalet Remington II handcrafted his first rifle barrel at his father’s forge, and soon after carried it to Utica to have a local gunsmith fabricate it into a flintlock rifle, which he used in shooting competitions. That hand-made rifle performed so well that the young man soon received orders from other competitors, and from there a firearms empire was forged.

In 1816, Eliphalet established his barrel-making business and forged thousands, which he sold to gunsmiths throughout the Mohawk Valley and beyond. His business quickly grew in size and he moved to a new location in 1828. It was a momentous time in American history, as he set up shop on 200 acres located alongside the newly constructed Erie Canal. That location in Ilion allowed his wares to quickly move throughout the region. The company’s primary facility is still located on the same site to this day.

Remington factory circa 1840.
Remington factory circa 1840.

Scoring Big Contracts

Business remained steady, primarily selling barrels to American consumers. Then in 1845, Eliphalet negotiated his first firearms contract to manufacture 5,000 Model 1841 “Mississippi” rifles for the U.S. Army Ordnance Department. Just a few months later, he received a contract to manufacture 1,000 Jenks breechloading carbines for the government.

Those were the first complete guns made by Remington—but they certainly weren’t to be the last.

In 1856, the company became E. Remington & Sons when all three of Eliphalet’s sons joined him in the arms-making business. That very same year, Remington introduced its first revolver based on a Fordyce Beals patent.

A Nation Divided, A Company United

When the American Civil War began in April 1861, there was little doubt about where the company stood. The Remington Armory soon began to supply pistols, carbines, rifles, and muskets for the Federal Army and Navy. Eliphalet Remington died in August of that year, leaving control to his sons: Philo, Samuel, and Eliphalet III. It continued to produce weapons for the war effort.

When the Civil War ended in April 1865, Remington adapted to the new peace and began making a variety of firearms for civilian hunters, and the emerging target shooting market, as well as for the settlers who were seeking to make their fortunes as part of the western expansion. E. Remington & Sons also evolved, and in 1871 established the Remington Ammunition Works to produce metallic, centerfire ammunition for pistols, rifles, and shotguns. In addition, the firearms firm branched out into other products—and E. Remington & Sons also manufactured the world’s first effective typewriter, an invention of Christopher Sholes and Carlos Glidden.

Christopher Sholes and Carlos Glidden typewriter
Sholes & Glidden Type-Writer, invented by Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule in 1868, and manufactured by Remington & Sons, Ilion, New York, USA, between 1874 and 1878.

The significance of that invention can’t be overstated as it was the first typewriter to utilize the familiar QWERTY key layout. While it only had upper case letters, the follow-up Remington No. 2 of 1878 was the first typewriter to include both upper and lower case letters via a shift key—and it led to the popularity of the QWERTY layout.

Change of Ownership and Name

In March 1888, the Remington family sold the ownership of E. Remington & Sons to new owners, Marcellus Hartley and Partners. At the time, the firm consisted of Hartley and Graham of New York, New York, a major sporting goods chain that also owned the Union Metallic Cartridge Company in Bridgeport and the Winchester Repeating Arms Company of New Haven, both in Connecticut.

It was at this point that the company’s name was formally changed to the Remington Arms Company.

Among the first products of the 20th century was John Browning’s autoloading shotgun, which was introduced in 1906 and later marketed as the Model 11. Over the next 42 years, Remington sold more than 850,000 of those innovative shotguns. Two years after the arrival of the Model 11, Remington introduced its first high-power, autoloading rifle, which was later called the Model 8. Remington Arms went on to produce more than 69,000 of these powerful hunting rifles over the next three and a half decades.

In 1911, Remington introduced its first pump-action shotgun, a John Pederson design that became the Model 10.

Model 10 shotgun
The John Pederson pump shotgun design that became the Model 10.

Remington Goes to War Again

The American Civil War helped transform the company into a firearms powerhouse, and it was ready when the First World War broke out in 1914. Even as America tried to remain neutral, Remington Arms geared up to provide the Allies with wartime products. It constructed four massive plants, each one a million square feet—including in Ilion, New York (firearms); Eddystone, Pennsylvania (firearms); Bridgeport, Connecticut (firearms) and another in Bridgeport (ammunition).

During the war, the company was contracted to produce M1907-15 Berthier rifles for the French Army, Pattern 1914 Enfield rifles for the British Army, and even Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifles for Imperial Russia. Due to the outbreak of the Russian Civil War, many of the Remington-made M91 Mosin-Nagants were never delivered but have been a sought-after item amongst collectors for the past 100 years.

Sailors with Mosin-Nagants
U.S. Sailors circa 1919 aboard USS Olympia with Remington-made Mosin-Nagant rifles (Photo U.S. Army Signal Corps)

When the United States entered the war in the spring of 1917, the company produced military rifles, autoloading pistols, signal guns, and machine guns, as well as carloads of ammunition. In 1918, Remington introduced the Model 51, the company’s first autoloading pistol and its first new handgun in 28 years. By the war’s end, Remington had provided half the small arms ammunition utilized by all the Allies during the entire conflict.

Model 51 Pistol
During the First World War, John Pedersen designed the Model 51—which soon became a hit on the civilian market.

Production was so great that when the Armistice was signed in November 1918, Remington was left with huge stocks of guns and ammunition and no prospects for payment. However, the U.S. government stepped up and purchased the stock of firearms—a fact that certainly saved the firm.

The Interwar Era — And Sales to Dupont

Following the end of the war, the company was again focused on the civilian market, and in 1921, Remington entered the cutlery business after forming the Remington Cutlery Works, Inc. two years earlier. The new Bridgeport venture produced pocket and sheath knives, kitchen and table knives, and scissors in volume. In fact, by 1926 the company was selling about 2,500,000 knives annually—the greatest production from any knife company in the world.

In 1922, Remington also focused on the civilian hunting market when it introduced the concept of “Game Load” shotshells replacing load varieties, revolutionizing the shotshell industry forever. Five years later, it introduced “Kleanbore” primers into all of its ammunition products, a proprietary primer development that reduced fouling, rust, pitting, and corrosion.

During the Great Depression, many American companies were hit hard by falling sales, and Remington was purchased by DuPont, which had made its name with improvements to gunpowder. A year later, Remington Arms purchased the Peters Cartridge Company; and today, many of the Remington headstamps still have “R-P” on them for Remington-Peters.

World War II and Remington

The United States saw the clouds of war on the horizon, and while it attempted again to remain on the sidelines, it still prepared accordingly. After the war broke out in Europe, the U.S. Army War Department ordered Remington to expand its ammunition production in Bridgeport, which included the formation of several GOCO (Government Owned Company Operated) ammunition plants in Denver, Colorado, Lake City, Missouri, and Lowell, Massachusetts.

It was a crucial move, as Remington facilities went on to produce more than half the small arms ammunition used by the allies. In addition, in early 1942—just weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—the company ramped up production of the M1903A3 Springfield bolt action rifle, which was rushed out to supply the USMC in the early stages of the conflict.

During the war, Remington even sold off its cutlery business in order to devote more production resources to the Allied war effort.

Post War Growth

Remington once again transitioned back to the commercial world, and in 1950 introduced the Model 870 “Wingmaster,” considered by many to be one of the finest pump-action shotguns ever designed. It has sold more than 10 million units.

Other notable firearms included the Nylon 66 Autoloading .22, which was introduced in 1959, and the Model 700, which has dominated the bolt action hunting market since its release in 1962. Remington Arms released more than 900 variants and sold more than five million Model 700s—including a version that has also been used by the U.S. military with both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps using the rifle since the Vietnam War. The most recent updated version was adopted in 2019.

Remington Arms Model 700 hunting rifle
The Model 700 has dominated the bolt action hunting market for six decades!

In 1970, the company constructed its modern ammunition plant in Lonoke, Arkansas, and over the next 25 years rimfire, centerfire, and shotshell production lines were moved out of Bridgeport. In 2020, following its bankruptcy, the Remington brand and ammunition facility was acquired by Vista Outdoor. It created a renewed focus on ammunition and started a new chapter in Remington’s iconic history. Last year it doubled the number of workers at its Lonoke factory and currently employs 900 people.

Lonoke Ammunition Plant
Millions of rounds are now produced every day at the Lonoke plant

In addition, the separate RemArms now maintains the Remington Arms legacy manufacturing facility in Ilion. It is now designing, producing, and shipping new Remington firearms—ensuring the oldest name in American firearms lives on.