A Brief History of Savage Arms
June 22, 2011
Savage Arms has a rich, albeit turbulent, history. The company bears the name of its founder, Arthur Savage, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica on May 13, 1857. Arthur came to the United States in 1893 and soon became involved in the design and manufacture of firearms. Although he lacked an engineering background, after a short firearms apprenticeship, he went on to develop the rotary magazine and a side ejecting internal hammer lever-action rifle. That eventually evolved into the famous Savage 99. He also developed a .45 caliber service pistol for the U.S. military trials of 1908. Although he lost out to Colt, he went on to develop a line of .32 ACP and .380 ACP pocket pistols intended for personal protection.
From those humble beginnings, Savage Arms grew to eventually become one of the largest sporting arms manufacturers in the world. During the "Great War" Savage produced Lewis aircraft machineguns as well as small arms for the United States, France, Canada and Portugal. After the war, Savage expanded when it acquired J. Stevens Arms in 1920 and A.H. Fox in 1930. With those three factories, and more than 3,000 employees, Savage suddenly became one of the largest manufactures West of New York.
Although Arthur Savage passed away in 1941, when war reared its ugly head his company was quick to answer the call. During World War II, Savage Arms produced some 1,400,000 Thompson submachine guns, more than one million No. 4 Lee Enfield rifles as well as .30 and .50 caliber Browning aircraft machine guns. They actually averaged 55,000 guns per month for the war effort. Following the war, a spell of indecision and missteps followed and in 1960 Savage closed two of its three factories and moved to its present location in Westfield, Massachusetts. Things continued downhill, and in 1988 Savage filed for bankruptcy protection.
The leadership of one man, Ron Coburn, turned things around. The company was completely reorganized with Coburn as president in 1989. Ron understood that for the company to survive and prosper, some drastic changes were in order. So he decided to go back to the basicsand dropped all the models except the bolt-action 110.
The work force was cut from 479 to 103, and modern processes and material flow technology were introduced with employees compensated at a fixed rather than piece rate. In addition, the cosmetics of the rifles were improved via nicer wood, cut checkering, a rubber recoil pad and a better finish.
The changes revitalized the company, and Savage slowly clawed its way back to financial independence. In 1995, Coburn bought the firm, and through his efforts the company has continued to expand and prosper.
It's good to see an old and respected firm like Savage Arms, which had stood at the edge of oblivion, now back in a prominent position. In particular, it has made a name for building extremely accurate varmint, competition and tactical rifles.
For a period of time, the consistently excellent accuracy of heavy barrel Savage rifles was a secret among competition shooters. However, with Savage Arms aggressively going after that segment of the market, the cat is long out of the bag. The looks of their rifles have also greatly improved over the pre-Coburn days.