Iver Johnson

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Iver Johnson
Former type Private
Industry Manufacturing
Fate Dissolved
Predecessor(s) Johnson Bye & Company
Founded 1871 (1871)
Founder(s) Iver Johnson and Martin Bye
Defunct 1993 (1993)
Headquarters Jacksonville, Arkansas, U.S
Products firearms, bicycles, and motorcycles
Parent American Military Arms Corp

Iver Johnson was a U.S. firearms, bicycle, and motorcycle manufacturer from 1871 to 1993. The company shared the same name as its founder, Norwegian-born Iver Johnson (1841-1895). After closing, the name was resold and in 2006 Iver Johnson Arms opened in Rockledge, Florida selling shotguns and M1911 pistols. However, the new Iver Johnson company does not have any parts, guns or information relating to the pre-1993 company.[1]

Iver Johnson[edit]

Advertisement for revolver claimed to be safe for babies

Iver Johnson was born in Nordfjord in the year 1841,[2] in Nordfjord, Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway [3] and later emigrated from Norway to the United States. He was educated as a gunsmith in Bergen in 1857 and had a gun store in Oslo. He married Mary Elizabeth Speirs (born January 1847 [4][5][6][7]) on April 9, 1868, in Worcester, with whom he had 3 sons (Frederick Iver, John Lovell, and Walter Olof) and 2 daughters (Mary Louise and Nellie).

Iver Johnson immigrated to Worcester, Massachusetts from Norway in 1863 at the height of the American Civil War. Johnson was a gunsmith by trade at the time, but also worked as an inventor in his spare time, which would come in handy later on as he sought new and creative uses for his partially idle manufacturing equipment, a thought process which would eventually lead him and his heirs to diversify the corporation's businesses. His early work involved not only gunsmithing locally in Worcester, MA, but it also included providing designs and work to other firearms companies, notably Allen & Wheelock for whom he made so-called "pepperbox" pistols.[8]

Johnson Bye & Company[edit]

In 1871, Johnson joined Martin Bye to form the Johnson Bye & Company, merging his own and Martin Bye's gunsmithing operations. During this period, Johnson and Bye filed for and received several new firearms features and firearms feature improvement patents. Their primary revenues came from the sale of their self designed and manufactured inexpensive models of revolvers. Not much is known about Martin Bye, as there is very little documented information about his life.

Bye and Johnson filed jointly for and were awarded multiple patents together, mostly related to firearms designs, beginning in 1876. The company’s name changed to Iver Johnson & Company in 1883 upon Johnson's purchase of Bye's interest in the firm. Bye continued to work in the firearm industry for the remainder of his life.

Iver Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works[edit]

The company's name changed again to Iver Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works in 1891, when the company relocated to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, (sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Fitzburg") in order to have better and larger manufacturing facilities. The Iver Johnson Complex, as it is known today, resembles other abandoned Industrial Revolution-era properties in New England. As has been the trend, the complex is often a target for real estate developers who intend to exploit its buildings' industrial brick aesthetics and open floor plans to create retail, residential, or other types of usable space.

Iver Johnson died of tuberculosis in 1895,[2] and his sons took over the business. Frederick Iver, (born 10/2/1871),[5][6][7][9] John Lovell (born 6/26/1876),[5][6][7][10][11] and Walter Olof (born August 1878),[5][6][7] each had vastly different levels of involvement in the company ranging from executive leadership to barely any involvement at all. They shepherded the company through a phase of expansion, as bicycle operations grew, then converted to motorcycle manufacturing and sales. They also saw the growth of the firearms business and the eventual restructuring of the company to focus on firearms and related business as they divested non-firearms concerns, such as the motorcycle business, in the face of growing firearms demand, World War I's armaments industry expansion, and other factors. As family ownership waned and outside investment via publicly traded stock and mergers/acquisitions/partnerships took hold, the company changed ownership and moved several times during its operation.

The company eventually dropped "Cycle Works" from its moniker when that part of the business was shut down. The business successfully weathered the Great Depression (in part thanks to higher rates of armed robbery, which helped maintain demand for personal firearms) and was buoyed by the dramatic increase in the market for arms leading up to and during World War II. As a result of changes in ownership, the company had the first of two major relocations in 1971 when it moved to New Jersey. It moved again to Jacksonville, Arkansas, and was jointly owned by Lynn Lloyd and Lou Imperato, who also owned the Henry brand name, before it finally ceased trading under its own name in 1993, at which time it was owned by American Military Arms Corporation (AMAC).[12]

Iver Johnson firearm models[edit]

An Iver Johnson RAI 500 sniper rifle.
Third Model Safety Hammerless .38 S&W

Iver Johnson nomenclature refers to its top-break revolvers as Safety Automatics. These are revolvers, not semi-automatic pistols. The term “Safety Automatic” refers to Iver Johnson’s transfer bar safety system (“safety”) and the automatic ejection of cartridges upon breaking open the revolvers (“automatic”).

Safety automatic[edit]

Standard models with external hammer:

  • First Model (1894–1895), single post latch system
  • Second Model (1896–1908), double post latch system
  • Third Model (1909–1941), double post latch system, adapted for smokeless powder

Safety automatic hammerless[edit]

  • First Model (1895–1896), single post latch
  • Second Model (1897–1908), safety lever added to face of trigger
  • Third Model a.k.a. New Model (1909–1941), no safety lever on trigger, adapted for smokeless powder

William McKinley assassination[edit]

Presidential assassin Leon Czolgosz shot and wounded U.S. President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901 with an Iver Johnson .32 caliber Safety Automatic revolver (serial number 463344).[13][14] (McKinley succumbed to these wounds nearly 8 days later, at 2:15 am on the 14th of September). The revolver is currently on display at the Buffalo History Museum in Buffalo.

Robert Kennedy assassination[edit]

Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed Presidential candidate United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles, California on 5 June 1968 with an eight-shot Iver Johnson .22 caliber Cadet 55-A revolver (serial number H-53725, Trial-People's Exhibit #6, misidentified in trial testimony as S/N H-18602).

Bicycles[edit]

1927 Iver Johnson model 90 bicycle.
Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works - "Honest cycles at honest prices" - 1897

Iver Johnson bicycles are classic examples of early American bicycles, and during the bicycle boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the company had a very productive bicycle manufacturing and sales line of business. Today, Iver Johnsons are considered to be "classics" by vintage bicycle collectors, and are considered to be especially pleasing from an aesthetic point of view. O.F. Mossberg worked in the bicycle plant and then started his own firearms factory.

Even when they were new, I-J's were marketed and had a reputation for being very graceful looking, well built, and engineered for performance. Iver Johnson sponsored the career of bicycle racing champion Marshall Taylor beginning in 1900. The most noted I-J model was the truss-bridge frame which featured a curved tube under the top tube to strengthen the frame for use on the rough roads of the early twentieth century. Bicycle production ceased in 1940 with the buildup of arms production prior to World War II.

Today, Iver Johnson bicycles are highly collectible and are no more rare than most other major manufacturer's products from that time. The name Iver Johnson is well known amongst vintage firearm collectors, but aside from that, bicycles would be the brand's next most popularly associated product. There is even an Iver Johnson bicycle on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in the America on the Move exhibit.

Motorcycles[edit]

Launched in Fitchburg, MA in 1907, The Iver Johnson Company motorcycle division was born from the conversion of a line of business that had been manufacturing bicycles for some 23 years prior to that point. Ultimately, the arms division of the business was growing so rapidly to meet demand that management decided to focus on that market and as a result motorcycle operations closed in 1916 (varying sources claim the last year as being 1915, with 1916 seeing only the sales of remaining 1915 produced inventory), bringing to an end 33 years of total cycle operations (23 for bicycles, and another 10 for motorcycle and run-off bicycle business).

In The Illustrated Directory of World Motorcycles, author Mirco de Cet reports:

Iver Johnson's Arms and Cycle Works had been building bicycles for 23 years when it entered the motorcycle business, and had started manufacturing firearms many years earlier. The Iver Johnson design was unconventional in many respects. The top and middle frame tubes were bent to arch over the engine, and the front fork was an interesting leading link, leaf spring design. Customers could choose either rigid or swingarm rear suspension. This was known as a keystone frame, one that employs the engine as a stressed member.

The side-valve singles and twins had two different valve mechanisms. The belt-drive single featured a longitudinal camshaft driven by worm gears, the shaft extending forward through the case to drive the magneto. On the V-twin and chain-drive single, the cams were incorporated in a large ring gear driven by a pinion gear on the crankshaft. The magneto on these engines was chain-driven. The V-twin was designed with offset crankpins, which provided evenly spaced combustion strokes, so exhaust note sounded like a vertical twin. The engine featured both mechanical and hand oild pumps. Final version of the twin were equipped with a planetary clutch, with either an Eclipse two-speed hub or a single speed. The twin was rated at eight horsepower, and the single at 4.5 hp.

In 1916 the market for weapons began to seriously outstrip the prospects for motorcycle sales, so the company turned its attention to firearms and tools.

As de Cet notes, there were options and variations of models of I-J motorcycles available, such as belt drive vs. chain drive, or solid-rear vs. suspended swingarm, but mostly they were categorized by engine type, either V-Twin or Single Cylinder configurations, with other characteristics being considered as "Options," and not necessarily defining traits of a particular model. The specifications for the basic model classifications are:

(V-Twin) Engine: Side-valve V-twin (Transversely Mounted, with one cylinder pointing forward, and the other backwards, with an acute angle between them Fuel: Gasoline (leaded) Displacement: 1020 cc (62.22 in³) Power: 7 to 8 hp (5 to 6 kW) Wheelbase: 58in (147 cm) Weight: 265 lb (120 kg) Top speed: 65 mph (105 km/h) Starting: Pedal Drive: Belt or chain

(Single) Engine: Single cylinder (Vertically Mounted) Fuel: Gasoline (leaded) Displacement: 500 cc (30.512 in³) Power: Unknown Wheelbase: Unknown Weight: Unknown Top speed: Unknown Starting: Pedal Drive: Belt

According to Jeffry L'H. Tank's History of the Motorcycle, Iver Johnson advertised their machines as "Mechanical Perfection," a boast that was not entirely unbelievable given the number of advanced design features in especially their later models, such as dual crankshafts, nickel-alloy machined parts, chain drive, and a hand-operated three-speed gearbox. In fact, amongst collectors and researchers such as Tank who have the benefit of hindsight, Iver-Johnsons of the day, such as the 1915 Model 15-7 are the finest period examples of motorcycle engineering of the day, along with a very select few others, such as Scotts.

In modern times, Iver Johnson motorcycles are as rare and collectible as any of the products of the myriad other early short-lived American motorcycle manufacturers that existed during the early days of the technology, such as Holley or Henderson, or even from British/European manufacturers like The Scott Motorcycle Company or Brough Motorcycles or Daimler-Maybach or Hildebrand & Wolfmüller. Considering that production ran for only 10 years, with 2 of those being used for the startup and shutdown of operations, examples of Iver Johnson motorcycles at all are rare, let alone those in collectible condition, and collectors should expect to face considerable difficulty in finding them and great expense when they are ultimately found (especially if found in restored, authentic condition).

End of Iver Johnson and revival of name[edit]

Though all vestiges of Iver Johnson as a going concern are now gone as of 1993, there is still a great deal of interest in the company and the collection of their products, although that interest is focused on their firearms business and not their motorcycle business. Where their motorcycles are collected, they are collected as examples of early motorcycles (as is the case with the products of many of the companies from the early days of the industry) and in an effort to catalog all of the early manufacturers, not so much out of inherent interest in Iver-Johnson motorcycles themselves.

In 2006 the name was reused as Iver Johnson Arms Incorporated in Florida as manufacturer and importer of firearms (from Philippines, Turkey, Belgium), but not related to the old Iver Johnson lines.[15] The new firm was renamed from Squires Bingham International, founded in 1973.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Iver Johnson Arms accessed 1 April 2013
  2. ^ a b Massachusetts deaths, 1841-1915, Familysearch, https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NW7D-6LF
  3. ^ National Archives and Records Administration, 1872 October 30.Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, serial M1299, roll 79.
  4. ^ National Archives and Records Administration, 1870, August 18. 1870 U.S. census, population schedules: Worcester Ward 4, Worcester, Massachusetts, roll M593_658: p. 223B: image 483: lines 13-20.
  5. ^ a b c d National Archives and Records Administration, 1880, June 8. 1880 U.S. census, population schedules: Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts, roll 567: p. 122D: enumeration district 884: image 0542: lines 22-27.
  6. ^ a b c d National Archives and Records Administration, 1900, June 6. 1900 U.S. census, population schedules: Fitchburg Ward 2, Worcester, Massachusetts, roll T623_691: p. 9A: enumeration district: 1609: lines 13-14 & 20-23.
  7. ^ a b c d National Archives and Records Administration, 1910, April 25. 1910 U.S. census, population schedules: Fitchburg Ward 2, Worcester, Massachusetts, roll T624_628: p. 10A: enumeration district 1728: image: 158: lines 70-76.
  8. ^ The Story of Allen & Wheelock Firearms (H. H. Thomas, author. Pioneer Press, Incorporated. 1991)
  9. ^ National Archives and Records Administration, 1902, May 27. Passport Applications, 1795–1905: Suffolk County, Massachusetts, roll M1372, application #57156.
  10. ^ National Archives and Records Administration, 1904, January 18. Passport Applications, 1795–1905: Suffolk County, Massachusetts, roll M1372, application #81238.
  11. ^ National Archives and Records Administration, 1918, September 12. United States, Selective Service System, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918: Fitchburg, Worcester, Massachusetts, roll 1685193.
  12. ^ Iver Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works Inc. (Direct Investments, Ltd.)
  13. ^ Taylerson, A. W. F. (1971), The Revolver, 1889-1914, Crown Publishers, p. 60 
  14. ^ Johns, A. Wesley (1970), The man who shot McKinley, A. S. Barnes, p. 97 
  15. ^ http://iverjohnsonarms.com/
  16. ^ http://www.m1carbinesinc.com/carbine_ijd.html

https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M68R-JYK https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N4ZG-BF4

Other sources[edit]

  • Goforth, W.E. Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works Firearms 1871-1993 (Gun Show Books Publishing. 2006) ISBN 978-0-9787086-0-3
  • Thomas, H. H. The Story of Allen & Wheelock Firearms (Pioneer Press, Incorporated. 1991) ISBN 978-0-913150-73-3

External links[edit]