|Predecessor||J. Stevens & Co.|
|W.B. Fay and James Taylor|
Stevens Arms was an American firearms manufacturer founded by Joshua Stevens in 1864. The company introduced the .22 Long Rifle round and made a number of rifle, shotgun, and target pistol designs before being bought by Savage Arms in 1920. After 1920, Stevens made training rifles and machineguns for the US Military. Savage still uses the Stevens brand today for a number of its low cost rifles and shotguns.
Stevens Arms was founded by Joshua Stevens with help from backers W.B. Fay and James Taylor in Chicopee Falls, MA, in 1864 as J. Stevens & Co. Their earliest product was a tip-up action single shot pistol. In that same year, the company produced a tip-up shotgun with approximately 24 gauge as the cartridge (.66" in diameter and 2.45" long).
Business was slow into 1870, when Stevens occupied a converted grist mill and had just sixty employees. The 1873 Panic had a further negative impact on sales. By 1876 the company had recovered to the extent that it was then manufacturing twice the number of shotguns as it had been prior to that year. In 1886, the company was reorganized and incorporated as J. Stevens Arms & Tool Co. The business was able to grow steadily with tool manufacturing and sales now accounting for the bulk of the business output.
Beginning in 1880, the company began making falling block rifles. These, though less well known than Ballard or Winchester firearms, were of comparable quality. They were priced lower than those of Ballard or Winchester, making the Stevens' falling block models competitive in the marketplace. Under names like Favorite, Little Scout, Crack Shot, and Marksman, Stevens sold millions of reliable single-shots. The total number of single-shot firearms manufactured by the company exceeded 3.5 million by 1892.
In addition, in 1887, Stevens developed the .22 LR round, which served as an introductory caliber for children for decades, as well as being very popular for plinking, as well as varmint and target shooting. The .22LR cartridge was available beginning in 1888, in the #1, #2, #9, and #10 break-top rifles, and in their New Model Pocket and Bicycle rifles. The .22 LR would outperform other Stevens rounds, such as the .25 Stevens and .25 Stevens Short, designed as competitors, and offered in models such as the lever action single-shot Favorite (produced between 1894 and 1935) and the Crack Shot #15 (introduced in 1900).
As several manufacturers would later do with other wildcats, Stevens adopted the .25-20, developed by Francis J. Rabbeth in 1882. The unpopularity of the bottlenecked case led Stevens to develop the .25-21 in 1897. Designed by Capt. W. L. Carpenter, 9th U.S. Infantry, the .21-21 Stevens was essentially a shortened version of the company's own .25-25 of 1895. (This is an odd reversal of the relationship of the .38 S&W Special to the .357 Magnum.) The .25-25 would be used in Stevens' model 44 and the model 44½ rifles manufactured from 1903.
Stevens and Taylor was bought out in 1896 by I.H. Page, who was one of the new partners and the bookkeeper. Page led the company to significant growth, such that by 1902 Stevens had 900 employees and was considered one of the top sporting firearms manufacturers in the world. In 1915, Stevens led the U.S. arms business in target and small game guns. Stevens military productions and offerings were generally limited to prototypes in an attempt to garner military contracts.
Stevens was bought by the Savage Arms Company in 1920 and the operations of the two companies merged, with Stevens operating as a subsidiary of Savage and sometimes identified as "Savage-Stevens" until 1936. This merger made the company the largest producer of arms in the United States at the time. Stevens introduced the Model 87 in 1938, which sold over one million units. Further units were sold as the Savage Model 6 by Sears.
Stevens produced a notable number of military arms, the most common being the Stevens Model 416 bolt-action rifle in .22LR caliber. The United States Military used the model 416 as a training rifle around the time of the Second World War. There is some debate and speculation regarding the extent to which the United States military made use of these rifles with their roles almost certainly being limited to basic firearm training. The military's Model 416 was stamped with "U.S. Property" on the rear left of the receiver. Rifles with this stamping have been found with serial numbers around 100,000. Various ordnance markings and proof marks can be found on this military rifle.
The 416 had a dramatically over sized bull barrel and a large wooden stock. The heavy barrel design added a great deal of weight which compared unfavorably with larger rifles such as the military's various .30 caliber offerings. It had adjustable peep sight apertures, a hooded front sight, and a small, removable magazine.
Other U.S. military offerings by Stevens included two shotgun models in 12 gauge. These were modified versions of the model 520 and 620 shotguns.
Some of the other more military firearms produced by Stevens include the Savage Lee–Enfield No. 4 rifle and the Thompson submachine gun. During the Second World War, Savage produced the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), as well as .30 in (7.62 mm) and .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns.
Joshua Stevens produced three lines of single-shot tip-up target pistols named after contemporary gunmen.
- Stevens-Conlin No. 28 – named for James Conlin, owner of a Broadway Avenue shooting gallery in New York City.
- Stevens-Lord No. 36 – named for Frank Lord, a prominent target shooter. Six hundred were produced from 1880 to 1886.
- Stevens-Gould No. 37 – named for Arthur Corbin Gould, a firearms expert and writer.
Two well known examples of the Stevens-Lord No. 36 were custom ordered by Buffalo Bill, serial no. 29 for himself and serial no. 32 as a gift for Ben Thompson. The deluxe set of pistols had ten-inch barrels chambered for .32 Colt, iridescent mother-of-pearl grips, and custom engraving with gold inlay by Louis Daniel Nimschke. The one given to Thompson included "From Buffalo Bill to Ben Thompson" on the spine of the grip.
An engraved, gold-plated Stevens-Gould No. 37 was given to sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the 1890s by her husband Frank Butler. The revolver had finely engraved dog and horse head motifs on both sides of the frame. The Stevens-Gould No. 37 was one of three embellished guns cased for Oakley as a presentation group.
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