The Remington Story
In 1843, the population of what is now Ilion petitioned for a post office. The proposed name was Remington--the place was commonly called Remingtons (as in Eli Whitney’s letter) or Remington’s Corners--but the Founder would have none of it, and after some argument and maneuvering, the name became lion. The village was incorporated in 1852.
The 850 rifles that were produced in 1849-50 were probably mostly (or all) U.S. M 1841 rifles, since Remington had an ongoing series of contracts under which they turned out thousands of that model. A few, however, may have been complete sporting arms. The total of 5,825 barrels were probably all for sporting arms. Hatch quotes, page 65, company statistics that report production in 1850 averaging 588 barrels per month, which would be 7,056 barrels in the calendar year. (This is not in disagreement with the census total of 5,825, which is for the twelve months June 1, 1849 - June 1, 1850). In 1851, the average was 672 barrels per month, with a high of 1,233 in October and a total for the year of 8,061; 1852 figures show 835 barrels per month average and a high of 1,475 in August, for a total for the year of 10,020 barrels.
The Industrial Schedules of the Census of the State of New York for 1855 confirm all this. Under the First District of German Flatts (i.e., Iron), the original manuscript version in the Herkimer County Clerk’s Office shows:
E. Remington & Sons/Gun Factory/$12,000 [real estate] $10,000 [tools and machinery]/70 tons iron & steel $7,200 [purchased]/[product] 10,000 gun barrels [valued at] $42,700/water power/50 men/$30 [average monthly wages].
Even though the census report includes no production of complete guns in 1854-55, some M 1841 rifles were probably turned out in the year. But the Remingtons themselves must have furnished the data to the census marshal, and they clearly regarded gun barrels as the primary product of their works.
In 1855 a British Parliamentary committee visited the U.S. to study industrial production, and issued a Report of the Committee on Machinery of the United States (reprinted in Nathan Rosenberg, ed., The American System of Manufactures, Edinburgh [Scotland], 1961). On an undated visit to German Flatts in 1855, reported on page 110, Lieutenant Warlow of the committee went to:
“Mr. Remington’s establishment, where rifles are made for the United States Government. Mr. Remington was the first person who introduced into the service barrels bored out of the solid bar of steel, for he found that so many were rejected in view [i.e., inspection] for flaws, etc.. that it was cheaper for him, on the whole, to use steel instead of iron.
“The barrels are bored straight through in a vertical boring machine, in which manner Mr. Remington states he has also bored musket barrels.... He is also the largest manufacturer of steel barrels for the private trade in the United States. All the steel used is brought from England. as that made in the United States cannot be depended on.”
Muzzleloading sporting arms that were made up in their entirety in the Ilion Remington workshops are rare. Such rifles advertised today as Remington-made usually turn out to have Remington barrels, which are anything but rare. The barrels were stamped in one line close to the breech
and the gunsmith who made up the gun usually breeched the barrel in such a way that the Remington stamp came on one of the bottom flats where it would be hidden by the stock. It is not uncommon for one or more letters to have been lost in polishing or breeching, so that the stamp reads:
or some such variant, but these are all lion-made barrels. Barrels are also seen stamped:
P. & S. REMINGTON
presumably for Philo and Samuel. So far, it is not known when this stamp was used or why these barrels were differentiated from the regular Remington production. (Marvin Sails of Ilion has suggested that after the Founder died in 1861 , his sons Pbilo and Samuel ran the business alone for a short time before their brother Eliphalet joined them, and that barrels stamped “P. & S. REMINGTON” date from these few months in late 1861).
Major wholesalers of hardware and gun parts advertised Remington barrels. For example, Patrick Smith, the large-scale Buffalo gunsmith, advertised in the 1851 Buffalo city directory that he carried “Gun Materials of every description” and that he was “Agent for Remington and Son’s celebrated rifle barrels.” Guns with Remington-stamped barrels have been observed stamped by many of the New York State makers, as well as such widely scattered other men as
This is, of course, only a casual list of names chosen at random. There were many, many others.
Although complete guns made in the Remington works usually have Remington-marked locks, none in the author’s experience has been marked on the top flat or rib of the barrel. The author owned for some years a double side-by-side combination gun that was undoubtedly Remington-made (Jack Appel, among the most experienced collectors of Remington long guns, has concurred in this opinion), and a practically identical gun isillustrated (frontispiece and page 23) by Harold Peterson in The Remington Historical Treasury of American Guns (N.Y.C., 1966). Neither was stamped with any name on the rib. Both have an open rear sight with a long front extension fastened to the barrel with two screws, which was apparently Remington’s characteristic rear sight. A double rifle of similar style, with back action locks stamped “Remington”, was at the Rochester gun show, August 17, 1968, and was undoubtedly Remington made.
By the later 1850s the company had begun the manufacture of small pistols; the chronology of models is well covered by Flayderman’s Guide and other references. However, a major part of the business continued to be the annual supply of thousands of rifle barrels to country gunsmiths. The firm continued to grow, too. The Industrial Schedules of the Census of the United States for 1860 (from the original manuscript at the Herkimer County Clerk’s Office) show statistics in a sort of chart that is impossible to reproduce on a printed page. The information, reduced to the usual census format, is as follows:
E. Remington Sons/Armory/$ 13,000 [invested]/[raw materials purchased [200 tons Lehigh Cole $1,000, 25,000 lbs Cast Steel $3,000, 4,000 bush Charcoal $400, 50,000 lbs Iron $2,300, Walnut $75/Steam [power]/75 [hands]/$3,000 [average monthly payroll]/[production] 6,000 gun barrels $15,000, 6,000 pistols $35,000, other articles $ 10,000.
The small amount of walnut suggests that very few, if any, complete rifles can have been made, especially because some of the wood has to have been used for pistol grips. (Of course it is possible that walnut had been carried over in stock from the previous year--but a couple of years’ supply would have been pretty bulky).
Eliphalet Remington, the Founder, died August 12, 1861 , apparently of appendicitis. Henceforth, his son Philo became the mechanical and production leader, Samuel became the promoter and salesman, and either then, or shortly thereafter, Eliphalet (the third of that name) became the financial superintendent. An enormous expansion was about to take place.
With the coming of the Civil War, government demand for revolvers became huge, and Remington became the second most important supplier, with production exceeded only by Colt. A pistol works was established in Utica--perhaps because the available pool of labor in Ilion was fully committed to the existing production there--and was in operation at least by early 1863 and probably as early as 1862. Boyd’s Utica City Directory and Oneida County Business Directory 1863-4 (Utica, 1863) lists many men as pistol makers, and includes two important listings:
Remington, Samuel, manufacturer of guns, pistols, & c., of E. Remington Sons, h.[ome] 46 Elizabeth.
Apparently Samuel Remington had moved to Utica (his 1855, 1860, and 1870 census entries are all in Ilion) to be the supervising partner for the revolver works, and Plaisted was the day-to-day superintendent. Hatch says (page 77) that the pistol works was in “the old Hamilton Hotel in Utica,” and that it produced 200 pistols per day at its peak.
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The next listings in the industrial census reflected the great growth of the firm during the Civil War. The Census of the State of New York for 1865. Oneida County, Utica, North part of the 4th Ward (Schedule IX) shows:
E. Remington & Sons/Manufacturer of Arms/$80,000 [capital invested]/[purchased] 275,000 lbs iron & steel, $43.378/[produced] 25,000 Army pistols $325,000/Steam [power]/l50 adults, 35 boys [employed]/$25 [average monthly wages for men].
This refers only to the pistol works in Utica. The Industrial Schedules for the same census for the Town of German Flatts list the astonishing statistics for the main plant in Ilion:
Remington & Son/Gun Manufactory/$ I 000,000 [capital]/[purchased] Iron & Steel $387,000/ [produced] 79,850 Pistols, 12,000 Rifle Muskets, ISOGO Gun Bbls/ [value of production] $1 207,357/Steam & Water/600 [adult men employed]/$52 [average monthly wages].
Taken together, the combined figures for both plants testify to a spectacular growth in the five years since 1860 as shown in the table on this page. The economic impact on the community must have been enormous.
It is clear that even in this wartime boom, custom barrels still formed an important (though no longer the major) part of Remington’s production. Some of the total of 15,000 produced were probably not for the trade with country gunsmiths; for example, Remington may very well have produced the rifled barrels for the Rogers and Spencer revolvers, of which about 5,000 were manufactured late in the war in Willow Vale, only a few miles from both Ilion and Utica; if so, some of these barrels would have appeared in the total reported to the 1865 census, which covered production from July 1, 1864, to June 30, 1865. Perhaps there were other sales in quantity to other wartime contractors, too. But even allowing for all this, a good many thousands of barrels seem to have been made for the old trade.
The importance of that trade in the minds of Remington’s management is suggested by the company's price list issued January 1, I 866, and reprinted in 1960 by the arms book dealer Ray Riling. No muzzleloading sporting arms are offered, though there is a listing of a “U.S. Rifle - Harpers Ferry Pattern - Model 1861” in .58 caliber with 33-inch barrel. No doubt this was the so called “Zouave” rifle. A number of breechloading rifles and pistols were offered, and the last page, which offers custom barrels for muzzleloaders, is illustrated here.
The arrangement of sizes and weights offered in that list is closely similar to the list of barrels and prices issued by J. & B. Losey of Mott’s Corners (now Brooktondale) in 1861. They were running the old forge established by Levi Coon in 1835, and they were Remington’s principal competitor in barrel production, though they were much smaller; they produced 600 barrels in 1860 and 881 in 1865. The prices on their 1861 list are about two thirds of Remington’s 1866 prices for equivalent items--but Remington’s prices may have risen following the war.
The wartime growth of the Remington plant was sustained in postwar years. The Industrial Schedules of the Census of the United States for 1870, German Flatts, include an extensive and complex entry for the Remington works, showing a detailed list of all the machinery in operation. It is divided building by building or perhaps floor by floor, according to the type and horsepower of the prime mover.
E. Remington & Sons/Fire Arms Manufactory/$ 1,000,000 [capital invested].
[Then the items for “Power” and “Machinery” are arranged as a list:]
Power h.p. Kind of Machine # steam 180 Milling 252 1st [bldg.?] Lathes 146 Edging Mach 34 Drill Presses 84 Planers 23 Steam 100 Punch Presses 35 2nd Screw Mach 23 Barrel Drills 8 Barrel Mach 46 Rifling 26 Steam 20 Drops 23 3rd Stocking 56 Polish Bbls 8 Polishing 72 Trip Hammers 17 Water 20 Grind Stone & 1st Frames 25 Cutter Grind 24 Emery Wheels 713 Barrel [tumbling barrel or barrel grinder?] Water 20 Rollers Sett [sic] 2nd Large Shears 1 pr. [illeg. “Forge”] Blowers 7 Special 80 Water 20 3rd Water 10 4th Water 10 5th
[There follows a very long list of materials purchased. Then, product:]
Military & Sporting Arms 150,650 $2,423,000 Gun Parts All 20,000 Custom Barrels 3,334 13,449
The low number of barrels produced is almost certainly evidence of the decline in the trade of the country gunsmith. Numbers of surplus guns from the war, including some breechloaders, were finding their way into the market and firms like Winchester were already producing for civilians, although they had not yet really hit their stride. Nevertheless, the combination of factors that ended the half-century of success for craft gunsmiths was already present and making itself felt--and thus the demand for Remington barrels had dropped sharply. The Mott’s Corners forge, now being run by John B. Lull, showed the decline, too: in 1870 they reported production of only 486 barrels, 45% below their 1865 figure.
For some unknown reason, the schedule of “Industry in the Census of the State of New York for 1875 in German Flatts includes no entry for Remington, although a number of smaller industries are described. Perhaps the statistics were so complex that they defeated the local census marshal.
Scientific American, New Series XLV #10,
September 3, 1881, devoted the outside front cover to fourteen illustrations of various processes in the Remington factory, and page 148 to an extended description of the factory and its operations and products. The text makes clear that the “inside contracting” system still prevailed, under which a foreman contracted with the company to produce parts--barrels, stocks, or what not--for a predetermined price. The company furnished materials, machinery, power, and space, but the foreman hired, supervised, and paid his own labor force, expecting that his own income would come from profit on the contract. Incidentally, Scientific American’s illustrations of the sine bar rifling machine and the barrel rolls are essentially similar to the machinery from Rock Island Arsenal that was set up in empty Remington plant space in 1941 and used to manufacture Springfield M 1903 rifles during World War II, some 60 years after the illustrations appeared.
Despite the decline in the making of muzzleloaders, which was very great in the 1870s, an undated catalog of E. Remington & Sons (which includes the model 1882 double shotgun and must thus have been issued in or after that year) still includes a page of barrels and mountings for muzzleloaders. The prices are identical to those of 1866, except that laminated steel and Damascus shotgun barrels have been added to the line and are more expensive. Cast mountings are cheaper (40 cents, 25 cents, and $ 1.50 in 1882, compared to 70 cents, 30 cents, and $2.00 in 1866), and no fewer that I5 patterns of patchboxes (none of them illustrated) are offered in iron, brass, or German silver, with prices ranging from $1.75 to $6.75. The old patterns of trade were dying hard; very few muzzleloading rifles that used patchboxes can have been made in the Northeast after 1882.
Through the 1880s, the firm was in increasing financial trouble. This is not an economic history, and it is not the place for an assessment of whether the lack of a repeating rifle for competition with the Winchester line, or the death of Samuel Remington the promoter and salesman, or general managerial errors, or some other cause or causes lay behind the eventual collapse of the firm in the spring of 1886. But the damage in lion must have been severe. Forest & Stream, April 29, 1886, page 271, has an article that says in part:
Failure of Remington
For years the firm has never had a pay day, and men got their wages in orders on the concern. The merchants took these orders in payment for goods, and when they had sufficient amount they exchanged them for Remington notes, which they frequently renewed, and have accumulated until now they aggregate about $300,000. There were 800 men employed in the works, and the majority, if not all of them, have been paid during the last four or five years in orders only, and have not seen a cent of money.... Mr. A. H. Russell [one of the receivers] said, “...One of the strongest efforts will be to pay the employees in money.”
The company was successfully reorganized, as we know, and its subsequent story really belongs to the field of modern economic and industrial history.
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Copyright ©1987 Herkimer County Historical Society
Copyright ©2006 Paul McLaughlin / Lisa Slaski
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