The Men Behind the Guns

Arthur Savage & Joshua Stevens

Drawings by Joe Orlando

Suppose you're a newcomer in the arms-making industry - an upstart battling giants that have devoured small competitors. Suppose you've invented an amazing rifle - but no one knows about it. And suppose, the rugged men of the American frontier won't even try your rifle because they figure the caliber is too small to slap down a grizzly or an elk. What do you do? You prove that your gun can stop a whale! It's as simple as that... if the year is 1900 and if you're as brilliant as Arthur Savage.

Let's do some more supposing. You're a fairly successful gunsmith, but you've had some failures, too. Years ago, you invented a revolver that might have become famous, but an old friend of yours named Sam Colt sued you over patent rights, he won, and you were out of business. You've sweat and you've scraped, and in 1864, you opened a one-room gun plant. You scraped some more and built up a good business, but nothing world-shaking. And, you want to develop the .22 Long Rifle cartidge - the world's best-selling shell. That's what you do if you're Joshua Stevens.

These two men both attained seemingly impossible goals, and in the process they laid the foundations for the Savage Arms Corporation, today one of the largest producers of sporting arms in the world. Ever since the turn of the century, the company's products - which now include Savage, Stevens and Fox Arms - have appealed to gun lovers who appreciate quality and reliability.

Arthur William Savage was born in the West Indies on May 13, 1857. His father was England's Special Commissioner to the West Indies, residing in Kingston, Jamaica, where his job was to set up an educational system for newly freed slaves. Arthur received an excellent education, but not of the kind calculated to mold a great gun inventor; his studies in college included such subjects as classical languages. His schooling was a far cry from the rudimentary education of the early Yankee gunsmiths who pioneered in firearms development. And yet, he had a great deal in common with those men. He was anything but the sheltered, bookish type.

As soon as he finished college, he took off for Australia and spent the next 11 years managing a cattle ranch. While there, he married a girl named Annie Bryant and they began raising a family that eventually included four sons and four daughters.

Not very much is known of those early years, but this is certain: Savage was fascinated by firearms and he had plenty of chances to use them. Seeking new wilderness to conquer, he returned to the West Indies to manage a coffee plantation and there he handled firearms of every type. He also had a deep interest in machinery of all kinds and was continually experimenting on improvements. Among his inventions was a military missile, (developed with the help of another man), known as the Savage-Halpine torpedo, which was bought by the government of Brazil. But by this time however, Savage's main interest was, without a doubt, small arms. He knew big things were happening in the United States, and it was where he decided to enter the field.

The giants - Winchester, Remington and Colt - dominated the industry, and many smaller companies had been swallowed up during their development. The only hope for the survival of a new enterprise was to offer something new.

In 1894, Savage organized such an enterprise in Utica, N.Y. The purpose of the Savage Arms Company was to produce a hammerless lever-action rifle designed by the inventor. Smokeless powder was already beginning to revolutionize the industry, and this rifle fired, high-power smokeless loads. Conventional big-bore, low-pressure, black-powder ammunition was already becoming obsolete.

The new rifle was the famous Model 99, and it was so good that today after a century, it still bears the same designation and the same basic design. The new cartridge, also Arthur Savage's invention, was in .303 caliber (not to be confused with the .303 British, a military load of later vintage that was used a great deal in World War II). Soon after its introduction in .303, the gun was offered in a variety of calibers, including .30/30.

The model 99 is a hammerless lever-action rifle, utlilizing a short lever throw. It has a rotary magazine rather than the familiar tubular type. In this magazine, sharp-pointed bullets could be used. These bullets, if used in the tubular type of magazine, presented the danger of accidental detonation during recoil when the point of one, struck the primer of the next. The rotary design also eliminated the marring of the bullets themselves. No lugs or bolts were used in the arm. The breech was closed and the action was so strong that high-powered, high-pressure ammo could be used safely. Side ejection made possible the mounting of a scope directly over the barrel. More importantly, to most riflemen of that day, the short lever throw made the rifle a lightning-fast repeater.

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» Savage Arms History