German Gunmaking Centers  

Introduction to German and European Gunmaking Centers

By Dietrich Apel

Certain cities and towns or districts in Germany became known for their gun making capability. Practically all of them were at times suppliers of military guns to the armies of the various principalities and later of Prussia and a united Germany. Since the fortunes of these centers were closely linked to the need of guns for the many wars, hard times many times came in the years following such wars and the making of hunting and sporting guns moved ever more to the foreground.

The industrial revolution brought many changes in gun making. Modern machines, gages and fixtures made it possible to produce accurate interchangeable parts. This lead to the establishment of Arsenals to produc military rifles the armies of the many European countries. The established gun makers in centers like Suhl and Zella-Mehlis gradually had to concentrate their efforts ever more to the making of hunting and sporting guns. As the different countries in central Europe became part of Prussia and eventually a united Germany, some of the arsenals were no longer needed and closed down. The remaining gun makers also had to find other work or had to making of hunting guns.

 

Suhl

Suhl is located in Thuringia called the green heart of Germany because of its central location and its forests and mountains. This location offered iron deposits, waterpower and an abundance of wood. Iron hammers were first mentioned in 1437 and the gun makers formed their first Guild in 1563. The history of Suhl is closely tied to the wars that brought gun orders as well as destruction by two major fires. Craftsmen brought the art of gun making to Suhl from Liege in Belgium and from Nürnberg in Bavaria.

Suhl was on the leading edge of the industrial revolution and, as in the U.S. and other countries gun makers had a major hand in developing the technology that led to modern production methods and the ability to hold very close tolerances for fully interchangeable components.

Suhl was a major supplier of military guns in World War I and II while suffering the consequences of these wars. The years in the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century up to World War I are considered the golden years of hunting gun production in Suhl. These are the years when all the famous gun makers like Sauer, Simson, Krieghoff and importers like Charles Daly and Abercrombie & Fitch, Stoeger and Griffin & Howe built their reputations and exported or imported many German guns.

If you studied population registers of Suhl up to the beginning of World War II, you would find that 75% of the whole work force worked on guns, either in the bigger or smaller factories or the many home work shops attached to the back of practically every house. The bigger factories like Simson, Sauer, Haenel and Krieghoff were able to do most of the work in their factories, but the smaller makers took advantage of a network of specialists.  Gun makers carried guns and parts in a rucksack from one shop to the other.  From this practice came the name “Rucksack-Büchsenmacher” (Rucksack gunsmith).

American troops occupied Suhl in April of 1945, but turned the area over to Russian occupation in July of the same year. Shortly thereafter, Russians packed up all modern machinery and shipped it to Russia by train as war reparations. At first all gun making was banned but very soon started up again in making hunting guns that were sent to Russia as war reparations. A Communist government took over all major companies and allowed only the smallest shops to exist as part of a cooperative (Bühag).

After German unification in 1998, industry in the eastern part of Germany collapsed. Businesses were sold to the highest bidder and even to this day the unemployment rate is still high in the eastern part of Germany. Only one major factory, the Merkel factory, survived, as did a limited number of small gun makers and engravers.

Production records of the pre-war gun makers are mostly lost and even their history must be pieced together from information in the hands of families, publications, gun users and collectors. But the remaining gun makers, now not locked away behind the iron curtain, are able to see what their competition in the free world is doing, and are rapidly catching up in quality and ingenuity while preserving their gun making tradition.

A visitor to Suhl might go away disappointed. He can visit  the gun museum in a very attractive old building and see how gun making in Suhl developed and how the early gun makers worked. A group of visitors might be able to pre-arrange a factory tour at the Merkel factory. To see the old Schilling drop forge is a must, but the owner has to be called ahead of time to open the doors. Other than that, the visitor can walk through the old town and may find historic markers on some of the buildings of the former gun makers and can make an appointment to visit the few remaining gun makers.

But don’t expect to see many of the guns that you collect or wished you had. Some of them are locked away in a warehouse. A small group of town employees tries to preserve what they can with a very limited budget. Under a new Ober-Bürgermeister the museum was modernized and is well worth a visit in Suhl. Since the re-unification Germany Suhl lost a lot of inhabitants and its finances are very tight.

Members of the Förderverein of the museum do what they can to help the museum and preserve the history of the Suhl gun makers and their guns.

Additional information to make your visit more interesting will be added as we receive it and have time to process it.

 

Zella-Mehlis

Zella-Mehlis, formerly Zella St. Blasii and Mehlis is dating back to the 16th century, is located right next to Suhl, and although it has a similar history in many ways it belonged to a different principality in the early years. It also was a town where practically everybody worked on guns or their components, either in bigger factories or in home workshops.

Many of the guns from Zella-Mehlis were lower priced and more affordable for many. Some of the shops worked as sub-contractors for the bigger factories in Zella-Mehlis and Suhl. The American collector will know of Zella-Mehlis because the famous Walther pistol factory was located here, as well as other famous companies like J.G. Anschütz. Zella-Mehlis is also well known for the many Schützen Rifles that were developed and made here.

Near the end of World War II American troops arrived in Zella-Mehlis in April 1945, but only left 3 months later. The Russian occupiers blew up the Walther factory and some other factory buildings that produced guns for the war. All that is left of the once very strong gun making industry is the Schilling Company that dates back three generations and the Ziegenhahn Company that moved to Zella-Mehlis from Suhl after German re-unification.

A visitor to Zella-Mehlis can reach it from Suhl in 15 minutes and should definitely visit the old proof house that was recently restored and is now a very attractive museum that shows the history and industry of the town where gun making played a major role. Besides that, a restored drop forge can also be visited.

A visitor to Zella-Mehlis can reach it from Suhl in 15 minutes and should definitely visit the old proof house that was recently restored and is now a very attractive museum that was created by Lutz von Nordheim and shows the history and industry of the town where gun making played a major role.

www.beschussanstalt.de
museum@zella-mehlis.de
Besides the museum, a restored drop forge can be visited.

www.gesenkschmiede.zella-mehlis.de

 

Herzberg

Herzberg – A German Gunmaking Center that faded away.
By Axel Eichendorff

The town of Herzberg am Harz ( www.herzberg.de) offered a supply of water power, skilled iron workers and the iron works of Königshütte ( www.koenigshuette.com ) nearby. George II, King of England and elector of Hannover, had the Königliche Gewehrfabrik (Royal Small Arms Factory) established there in 1739 to supply his Hannoverian army. The masters of the Gewehrfabrik were allowed, as customary in those times, to set up their own shops as outworkers. During idle times those masters also made hunting and other non-military arms. The best known of those Master dynasties are Crause, Stoermer and Tanner. During the following decades, Herzberg became one of the leading gun making centers in Germany, second only to Suhl, supplying not only Hannover, but several northern German states with military equipment. In fact, most of the so-called “Hessian” muskets of the American Revolution were made in Herzberg! The busiest times for the Herzberg gun trade were the Napoleonic Wars when they worked in turn for Hannover, France, Jerome Bonaparte’s petty kingdom “Westfahlen” and Hannover, Braunschweig and Oldenburg etc. After the 1866 war, the Gewehrfabrik was taken over by Prussia like the rest of Hannover.

From 1869-1871 Herzberg manufactured large quantities of the needle fire carbines M/57 for the Prussian cavalry. In 1876 the Herzberg factory was closed in favor of the other Prussian state arsenals like Spandau, Danzig and Erfurt.  The closing down of the Gewehrfabrik marks the beginning of the decline of the Herzberg gun trade. At first more than a dozen companies or individuals continued with gun making, but by the beginning of WW I most of them had quit.

The Stoermer family finally closed the door of its gunmaking enterprise in 1925, ending the Herzberg gunmaking tradition. From GOOGLE I already learned that there was a Johann Nicolaus Welkner 1725-1780 and that his son Friedrich Valentin was born 11.02.1756 in Herzberg. There are still 6 C. Krauses and 18 Stoermers in the Herzberg phone directory, but neither a Welkner nor a Tanner.

An old friend of mine once told me that, as a refugee after WW II, his family was stranded in a former gun maker’s shop in Herzberg. At first they had to cart away lots of gun parts and tools and threw them into the pond, but at least they had a cozy home for the following years: The attic was full of well-seasoned gunstock blanks that they used for fire wood during three winters!

Axel Eichendorff is a member of the GGCA and lives near Herzberg in Germany.

An article about Herzberg and its gun makers can be found in the Archive- Herzberg

Kreiensen

Kreiensen Gunmakers, Burgsmüller, Voss, Haselhorst
By Axel Eichendorff

The village or small town of  Kreiensen am Harz at the foot of the Harz mountains , halfway between Hanover and Kassel, was a fine place for any shops in times when everyone traveled by railway. Kreiensen is the junction of the former east-west Brunswick State Railway and the north-south Hanover & Prussian State Railway with two big 19th century stations built side by side.

Kreiensen is best known to gun collectors as the home of the Burgsmüller gun factory and mail order house. Since 1876 the Burgsmüller Company was a very inventive company with many patents of not only guns, but also of gun making machinery for deep hole drilling and rifling. Together with their competitor Stukenbrok in nearby Einbeck they pioneered the world wide mail order business of guns and other sporting equipment around 1900. The Burgsmüller’s 1930 catalog is available as a reprint from the GGCA bookstore. The company still exists in its original location, but is out of the control by the family and is now a precision machine producer. The remains of a gun department were closed down about 1990, and due to political correctness their home page does not even mention the fact that they ever had anything to do with guns.

The address of the English version of their home page is www.burgsmueller.de.

During the World War I Burgsmüller was a major producer of armament for the German army. They even held a patent for a trench mortar. After the end of WW I in 1918 all major German arms factories had to lay off most of their workers. Under the provisions of the Versailles “Peace” Treaty only one weapons factory was allowed to produce arms, and only the Simson Company in Suhl agreed to be the one. All other major gun factories existed under close supervision of allied disarmament commissions until the mid-1920s and feared of being expropriated by them. Small sporting gun makers did not suffer such stringent controls.

Here we come to W. Voss and Haselhorst & Co. Wilhelm Voss opened a shop in 1919, and even published a catalog that looks like an  abbreviated carbon copy of a pre-war Burgsmüller catalog. He is last mentioned in 1940. Perhaps he was one of those Burgsmüller workers who lost his job after 1918; or “W. Voss” was only a brand name used by Burgsmüller, like the name Glenfield was used by Marlin.

The story of Haselhorst & Co., Harzer Waffenindustrie (Harz Arms Industry)  now becomes clear . Mr. Haselhorst was the father-in-law of one of the Burgsmüllers, and part of the Burgsmüller family! So it was no more than a brand name or fictitious company, created to disguise the fact that Burgsmüller produced and exported sporting guns again.

Haselhorst & Co. is documented in 1922 and 1924, and according to the family history there was no reason for its existence after only about 5 years and it was liquidated. A “Haselhorst” Drilling in 30-30 that came to our attention was certainly made by Burgsmüller for export to the USA, as the 30-30 chambering was never popular for use in Germany.

 

Oberndorf

Oberndorf on the Neckar River

 Oberndorf is located in the Black Forest. A factory of the State of Württenberg for the production of military gun components for the armory in Ludwigsburg was located here after 1805. In 1811 this arsenal was also moved to Oberndorf into the buildings of a former cloister. The arsenal produced military guns through 1874 when Paul Mauser bought the factory together with his brother and called it “Gebrüder Mauser, Cie”. The Mauser history is a long and distinguished one and Mauser rifles were made for many countries of the world.

The Mauser 98 action is still considered the ultimate bolt action, more than 100 years after its invention.  Mauser military rifles and the original Mauser sporting rifles are still admired and  highly valued by collectors. Today’s custom rifle makers still follow the example of the original Mauser sporting rifles.

The Mauser Company still exists under new owners and markets a hunting rifle with a double square bridge receiver and just came out with a bolt-action rifle with a newly developed action. It is no longer located in Oberndorf.

Heckler & Koch, known mostly for their pistols, was founded after World War II in Oberndorf by former Mauser employees and is now a major gun manufacturer. They had bought the Merkel factory in Suhl but sold it to new owners.

A visit to the Mauser Museum in Oberndorf is very worthwhile.

 

Weipert

Weipert / Vejprty in Bohemia, a province of Czechoslovakia.

Weipert is called the gateway to Western Europe. It is located in Bohemia, a province bordering the German provinces Silesia in the north-east, Saxony in the north-west and Bavaria in the west. It is located in the Erzgebirge (ore mountains), a mountain region where iron ore, Uranium, gold and silver could be found. In the nearby town Joachimstal gold was mined and the term “Taler” from which the term “Dollar” derived had its origin. Prague, the capital of Bohemia, is also the capital of Czechoslovakia.

Weipert is located in a mountain pass to Germany and like in other gun making centers like Ferlach in Austria and Suhl in Germany, the availability of iron ore, wood and water power attracted gun makers. Since Bohemia belonged to different principalities and the Austrian Empire over the centuries, many immigrants came from Germany and imparted a strong influence on the whole province. At the end of World War I Bohemia became a province of the Czech Republic, but Hitler reclaimed it for Germany before the beginning of World War II. Not only did this province again belong to Czechoslovakia at the end of this war, but most Germans fled ahead of the Russian army, others were forced to leave and nobody of German origin could return.

Although Weipert had fewer gunmakers than Suhl, Zella Mehlis, Ferlach or Liege, very fine hunting guns were made here. The first gunmakers guild was formed in 1734. We find listings of the following gunmakers in Weipert and vicinity:

Bartl. Josef                                                  Hoffman, Josef Jr.

Bittner, Richard and Wenzel               Morgenstern

Wenzel and Max Herbert                      Ritter, Josef,

Diemelt, Anton                                          Schmidl, Norbert and Eduard

Fükert, Gustav and Johann                  Thiele, Rudolf and  Xaver

Gahlert, Alfred and Vincent

Weipert and Prague had their own proof houses and the one in Prague still exists. Two well known gunmakers, Novotny and Faulkner were prominent dealers in Prague. One of the proof marks used was NPw.

 

 

Important German Cities

Berlin, the capital of Germany was home to many individual gun makers in the in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century. Most of the remaining ones ended up working at the Spandau arsenal in 1723.  Ludwig Loewe & Co. was one of the last major gun factories located in Berlin. But the capital of Germany attracted most major gun companies who had sales subsidiaries in Berlin and many gun dealers who had their own gun shops. The most prominent ones had gun-making facilities in Suhl or ordered guns from well-established makers in Suhl and Zella-Mehlis. The guns were engraved with the dealer’s name. Many of these dealers had the title “Hofbüchsenmacher” in front of their name, which means, “Gun maker to the Court”. This no doubt indicated that the dealer was well established and had a good reputation. But it was a title that money and favors could buy, and we know that Erich Stegleder, one of the prominent dealers in Berlin, chose to do without it and to stand on his own reputation for quality and good service.

Russian troops occupied the city in 1945. Shortly thereafter Germany and the city were divided into four sectors. Berlin remained the capital of the DDR, the sector that was under Russian control with a Communist Government. Germany was re-united in 1989 and Berlin just recently became again the capital of the re-united Germany. No major gun business seems to have survived in Berlin.

 

Arsenals in Germany

Amberg

 Amberg Gewehrfabrik (Arsenal) of the State of Bavaria was founded in 1801 in an area with a long gun making tradition. It went out of business at the end of World War I. Some of the gun makers opened their own shops, became known for good quality guns but slowly faded away where today only the 7th.generation of Kuchenreuters continue in the old tradition. They have attractive retail stores and workshops in Cham, where the family history can be seen in their family museum. In their shop they build fine custom rifles, including reproductions of the old guns. Kuchenreuter guns are highly valued by the antique gun collector and today’s Kuchenreuter shop enjoys a sterling reputation.

 

Erfurt

 

Königsberg

Königsberg, formerly part of Prussian and later of Germany, had been founded in 1255, and was  largely destroyed at the end of World War II. Its ruins were occupied by the Soviet Army on April 10. 1945 and it was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946. Although surrounded by Poland.it now belongs to Russia. After the Arsenal in Königsberg was closed some guns for the civilian market were made there.

Arsenal Taken Street fighting took place in the southern and western parts of the city, during which the Russians captured an arsenal and the east ern, southern, and western railway stations.

 

Spandau

 Spandau, near Potsdam and Berlin, the arsenal of the Prussian King and the German Kaiser, played a major role in the development and the selection of military rifles. The most famous military rifle, the Mauser model 98, was chosen by the arsenal in 1898.

Louis Schlegelmilch also developed a bolt-action rifle in 1889 at the Spandau Arsenal. Although he lost out to the Mauser 98 and his invention was forgotten for many years, it can be considered the fore-runner of today’s German bolt action sporting rifles.

 

Other European Gun making Centers

Ferlach in Austria

The Guns of Ferlach
A 446-year Tradition

In 1556 Charles V abdicates and assigns the Holy Roman Empire and Austria to his brother, Ferdinand I. In 1558 Ferdinand assumes title to the Holy Roman Empire, and in that same year requested that gun makers from Holland and Belgium come to Austria to start a gun works. Two Schaschl brothers left Liege, Belgium and settled in Ferlach to start a gun factory, which was in operation until 1818. A few years later their descendants started a gun-manufacturing co-op, which is still in operation, and is owned by the fourteen master gunmakers. Over eight generations later, there are still Schaschl’s who are engravers and custom gun makers in Ferlach. Some of the people work directly for an individual gun maker, while others work in the Co-op, which produces barrels and some of the other parts for the gun makers. Still others work out of their home and do engraving or other work for individual gun makers or private clients.

Around the turn of the century, there were a few Schaschl’s who left Ferlach and came to the United States and operated gun making and repair businesses in the Midwest at which they were quite successful. One operated in Flint, Mich., and the other was Ferdinand Schaschl, a famous gunmaker and gunsmith in Chicago until the 1970’s. Since they have passed on, no descendants in America are carrying on the rich Ferlach tradition.

It is a three-year apprenticeship for students at the co-op school for those that wish to carry on the gun making tradition. For those who wish to become engravers, the schooling is four years. Most of the students have a father or relative who is a gun maker or engraver, and they are very proud to be able to carry on the rich tradition of their forefathers.

The size of the business of each of the master gunmakers varies greatly. Some are a father and son operation, most have around six to ten employees, with the largest having over 150 employees. Today, there are fourteen master gun makers in Ferlach, who along with their 200+ employees, produce about 500 guns a year. This is in contrast to the 16,000 military pieces produced annually in the 1750’s for the government. Many of these weapons are now on display in the national armory in Graz, Austria, which has over 25,000 weapons on display along with suits of armor. The prices of a Ferlach gun start at $25,000 and go up to $500,000. Each piece of the gun is carefully and lovingly hand fit¬ted to produce a superb firearm that is often embellished with delicate engraving and inlaid with gold or silver. The average gun produced by the Ferlach gun makers cost $50,000 – $75,000 and takes six to ten months to produce. There were two very expensive guns made in Ferlach some years ago, each costing over $1,000.000.00. They would never reveal who purchased them, but after several days of persistence they advised that one went to Argentina and the other when to Iran. Seventy percent of their production now goes to Germany, which has the gun makers concerned. If the Germany economy takes a turn for the worst, what will happen to their 446 year old tradition? Only Beretta has been making guns longer than Ferlach and is still in business.

Many of their guns can be found in museums and private collections around the world, and Ferlach has an excellent museum detailing the rich history of gunmaking in their town. Royalty and presidents from many different countries are proud owners of Ferlach guns. Hunters and collectors, who desire the best, come from all over the world to the town of Ferlach to order their custom made guns. You can spend several days there and visit with each of the fourteen master gunmakers to determine who you would like to build you a drilling or vierling. They also will build you a standard bolt-action rifle or over and under or side-by-side shotgun with exactly the features you desire and any degree of engraving or inlay work. There isn’t an action or feature, which they can’t produce for you. Each of the master gunmakers does some things a little differently from the other and they might also offer some things, which the other gun makers do not. They tend to be a little secretive about some of their processes and methods of manufacture, even from each other. They are very proud of what they offer their clients and the tradition, which they are continuing. There is also a firm in the United States which will assist you in ordering a custom made gun without having to go to Ferlach.

This small industry brings in $8,500,000 to $10,000,000 to the town of 7,000 annually. But the hard working Buchsenmachermeister are concerned about their future. To much of their product goes to one country. Some of the owners have no sons to take over their business, and their daughters are not interested running the business. Even the employees at some of the gunmakers, who have been offered to buy the firms, are not interested in taking over the business, because they already know how much harder and longer the owners must work to keep their business profitable. It’s difficult for them to compete in a highly automated world where guns can come off an automated production line at 1/10th the cost. Others see changes in society, which will lessen the demand for their type of product. Whatever the future holds, they are determined to produce only the finest for their clients. They hope the art and tradition of fine gun making will continue for another 450 years. There have been a few German master gun-makers who have moved their operations to Ferlach because they know just by being in Ferlach, they will increase their business because of the number of people that go their to have a custom gun made.

Mountain Adventure Sports, 5045 Brennan Bend, Idaho Falls, ID 83401, 208-523-1545 itishooting@msn.com  is a firm in the states, which can have a custom Ferlach gun made to your specifications. The owner is a descendant of the Schaschl’s who started the gun works.

If you decide to visit Ferlach to have a gun made, allow yourself a week if you haven’t already picked out a gun maker. A lovely Gasthof in Ferlach with outstanding food and relaxing rooms is: Gasthof Jurkele Outschar-Ebner, Josef-Ogris-Gasse 23, A9170 Ferlach, Karten, Austria Tel 04227/3377

The following are the master gunmakers of Ferlach:

Ludwig Borovnik KG
Bahnhofstrasse 7
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2442, 2249, Fax 4349

Fanzoj Gesellschaft m. b. H.
Griesgasse 1
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2283, Fax 2867

Wilfried Glanzning
Werkstrasse 9
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2639, Fax 4851

Hambrusch Jagdwaffen
Gesellschaft m. b. H.
Gartengasse 4
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2262, Fax 4106

Karl Hauptmann
Bahnhofstrasse 5
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2263, Fax3435

Peter Hofer Jagdwaffen
Franz-Lang-Strasse 13
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 3683, Fax 3683

Jagdwaffen G. Juch
Inh. Mag. H. Grund
Pfarrhofgasse 2
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2256, Fax 2256

Josef Just
Hauptplaz 18A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2273, Fax 4284

Herbert Scheiring
Klagenfurter Strasse 19
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2876, Fax 2876

Jakob Koschat
12 November Strasse 3

A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2390, Fax 2278

Johann Michelitsch
12 November Strasse 2
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2391, Fax 2868

Johann Outschar’s Sohn
Inh. Walter Schaschl-Outschar
Josef-Ogris-Gasse 23
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2377, Fax 2998

Peter Hofer Jagdwaffen
Franz-Lang-Strasse 13
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 3683, Fax 3683

Josef Schaschl *
Karawankenzeile 16
A9170 Ferlach, Austria
* Engraving, Gold and Silver inlay embellishing only

Benedikt Winkler
Postgasse 1
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2261, Fax 2969

Josef Winkler
Neubaugasse 1
A9107 Ferlach, Austria
Tel (04227) 2285

 

Author: Jerry Sinkovec
I was not able to contact him and ask for his permission.


Liege in Belgium

 

St. Etienne in France

 

London and Birmingham in England