Day 210 - New Haven
Even in this era of much ambivalence towards weapons you hear many a proud “My first gun was a Mossberg” declaration. O. F. Mossberg & Sons Inc. in New Haven has been manufacturing inexpensive target and hunting rifles for more than ninety years. With the slogan “more gun for the money”, the still family-owned company has become the world’s largest producer of pump action shotguns.
Oscar Frederick Mossberg was born in Sweden in 1866, near the village of Svanskog in Värmland (see Day 198). He was a “tinkerer” who spent countless hours in his father’s workshop finding out how technical devices worked, and inventing improvements on his cycle. At age 20 he emigrated to the United States, settling first in Worcester and then in Fitchburg where there were many swedes. His talent as an inventor was discovered at the Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works where he helped patent a safety feature that even allowed you to “hammer the hammer” on a handgun without it discharging.
Oscar Mossberg married Alida Peterson from Sweden and went on to work for several other arms manufacturers, soon having an impressive list of patents to his name. In his spare time he invented, patented and manufactured the miniature “invisible defender” gun that you could hold and conceal in your hand. When his sons Iver and Harold had graduated from college in 1919, O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc. was founded and the company rented a loft in New Haven for the new business. The first employee was Harold and the first product was the small four-shot “Brownie” pistol Oscar had just invented. This ingeniously simple pistol retailed for less than six dollars and eventually 50 000 of the pistols were sold.
“If you look at an old list of employees” said Alan Mossberg (in a Swedish Press CompanyFile in 2000) “you will see all the Swedish surnames”. To work for Mossberg was like being part of an extended family and even today the average length of employment is 15 years. You can see the companies Swedish roots in the Mossberg logo that integrates both the three crowns and the Swedish flag.
Regardless of how much the company grew, Oscar Mossberg preferred the workshop to the board room. His company became known for its brilliant technical solutions that were primarily focused on safety. His grandson Alan who heads the company now has even landed in hot water for proposing a federal law mandating gun locking devices on all the nation’s 200 million firearms.
Weapons manufacturers are not very talkative right now. They let organizations such as the National Rifle association fight for “the second amendment right to carry a weapon”, while they pursued their interests in an increasingly tough business climate. What a change from the days when Remington and Winchester were the Nokia and Ericsson of their time and the mechanical intricacies of firearms was the technical frontier.
The first gun for nearly every American hunter and shooter was a Mossberg and that may be the reason why there is even a growing National Mossberg Collectors Association. Collectors treasure the limited edition Roy Rogers lever-action rifle, the Targo trapshooting system, the guns Robert Stack advertised in the Mossberg television commercials, but perhaps most of all the very first oh-so-sleek Mossberg they bought with their own money with that telescopic sight too.
Today Mossberg manufactures a full line of pump action guns for fowl and duck hunting, target practise, home security, military, and law enforcement purposes. The head office is still located in New Haven, but the company also has manufacturing plants in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.