The Heym Gun Makers in Suhl, Münnerstadt and Gleichamberg
By Dietrich Apel, edited by Larry B. Schuknecht
The list of gun makers in Suhl with the last name Heym is quite long. In 1835 the list contains 16 Heyms that worked on guns.
By 1895 the list of Heym gun makers had grown to 25 men, most of them gunsmiths, two stock makers and one “Einsetzer” who hardened the actions.
We only have information about a few of them, among them the maker of a Pinfire Gun, Max Heym who specialized in making single shot rifles using the Heeren action and the engravers August and Joachim Heym. The most prominant Heym gun maker was Friedrich Wilhelm.
The Friedrich Wilhelm Heym Company of Suhl
The Friedrich Wilhelm Heym Company is one of the very few companies that survived the first World War, the great depression, the Hitler years, the second World War and the American and Russian occupation, but not in the original location, but in two new locations under several Heym family members and finally a few new owners. The Heym name is still respected and Heym guns are appreciated to this day.
The Friedrich Wilhelm Heym Company began in the building on the right in 1865 and remained there until they closed their doors at the end of World War II in April 1945 when American troops occupied Suhl and Russian Troops took over three months later. The founder had set the goal for himself and his Company to be among the best gun makers in Suhl.
Founding of this company took place at a very opportune time that was praised as the “Golden Years of Gun Making”. Breech loading guns had completely taken over from the muzzle loaders, percussion caps and back action locks with outside hammers were giving way to self contained cartridges and in another two decades the hammerless action would be developed. This brought about the first really practical hunting guns that were used not only by the privileged ruling class but by many ordinary people.
With development of the successful breech loader, three barrel hammer guns soon followed with various selector mechanisms that allowed the use of the hammer on the right to fire both the right upper barrel as well as the third barrel below were invented in short order. But the “hammerless” actions, where the hammers were located inside the the action or covered by the stock, had still to be invented. Heym was one of the very first companies to make a hammerless Drilling that had three triggers. The front trigger was hinged and could easily be pushed forward to reach the second trigger.
Patent no. 60215 for a Drilling with three triggers was issued to Heym on May 24, 1891. Further along on this page you will find an article about one of these exceptional three trigger guns.
In 1912 Adolf Heym assumed the management of the Company and expanded good Sales connections into Russia. August Heym took over the management of the Heym Co. in 1920 and began using Anson & Deeley type box lock actions on many of their models. Heym was also making some of the “Prussian Daly Guns” that the gun maker Lindner in Suhl had made up to the beginning of the first World War. As all major manufacturers in Suhl, Heym must have also made components for the war production but to the best of our knowledge did not make any complete military guns. You will find the story about the arrival of the American Troops in Suhl by clicking Here.
A few of the bigger gun makers in Suhl left with the American troops when they pulled out and the Russian Troops occupied Suhl. Following is an old article with the explanation of why the Heym’s left Suhl after Russian troops took over from the American troops. The author of this article is unknown to us.
August & Rolf Heym started a new factory in Ostheim located in the American zone of the divided Germany. Since the ownership and making of guns was not yet allowed, they made various other products like Cuckoo Clocks, Spinning Wheels and Slide Rules. They then had the opportunity to make a new Mauser-Heym bolt action Police carbine, one of the first guns to be permitted by the American and British allies.
By 1952 the revised laws again allowed the ownership and making of certain hunting and sporting guns and a new factory was built in Münnerstadt, close to the Iron Curtain that separated the two parts of Germany. Very early on they purchased one of the very first available cold hammer forging machines for the making of shotgun and rifle barrels and they began selling barrels to other gun manufacturers.
The list of gun models that were developed in Münnerstadt and those that were added after the move to Gleichamberg is shown below.
Rolf Heym took over the management of the Heym Co. in 1963 and ran it until his death in 1972. At that time Elisabeth Heym took over the management of the Company with her husband, Hubert Dschulnig. Peter Bang became the plant manager and it was he who appointed Paul Jaeger, Inc. in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania as the exclusive importer of Heym guns in the USA. The Heym SR20 Bolt Action Rifle was of interest to left handed shooters because the rifle was available with a true left hand action and the rifles were available with a classic straight comb stock that was at that time still preferred by many.
At the urging of the Jaeger Company and of Tom Turpin who had a close relationship with Heym when he was stationed in Germany, the Model 88-B Double Rifle and the Model 88-BSS side lock rifle became avalable in 1985, one of the first affordable magnum caliber double rifles for more dangerous game hunters. It was lower priced than the Chapuis Double rifles made in France and ahead of the Krieghoff Double Rifles made in Germany.
The story of a Model 88 BSS rifle, the Nr. 3 Buffalo Double Rifle made by Hetm for the “Safari Club International’s Big Five Rifles” is told in the limited edition book “Safari Club International” by Bill Quimby and in a feature article in German from a German Gun Magazine. The German article explains the unusual circumstances how the Canadian high bidder lost his rifle that is now in the possession of the “Canadian Mounties”.
In 1992 a new owner in Switzerland bought the company that was then taken over by a new owner in Munich who took advantage of the unification of Germany and the financial support by the German government to revitalize the East German economy. A new factory was built in Gleichamberg and the Heym Co. moved there in 1995. Gleichamberg is a small village that is barely inside the former Russian occupation zone that was the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) under the Communist Government. The factory is located about half way between Münnerstadt and Suhl, where Heym was originally located. The Heym employees could be taken by bus from Münnerstadt to the new location and Suhl gun makers could also commute to the new factory.
On Feb. 1, 1998 Mr. Thomas Wolkmann became the new owner of the company who once again opened former markets in Russia and other former Communist countries. Under his leadership the Company directed most of their efforts to creating fine custom built guns with many options like action types, barrel configurations, fine wood and fine engraving. An interested buyer can visit the factory and discuss all details of a gun he wants to order and even meet the engraver who will do the engraving to his expectations. The Company now seems to have found it’s niche in the World market and seems to be finely anchored.
Over the decades between the Companies founding and World War II they exhibited at many events and the following is a sample of some of the awards they received in recognition for the quality products.
The Heym catalog pages from the early 1920’s show a great variety of models the company made. The German Gun Collectors Association has a 26 page “Friedrich Wilhelm Heym” catalog from the 1920’s available for purchase. Click here to go to their site and to view their offerings.
Click Here to view a 8 page pre-war Friedr. Wilh. Heym Catalog.
Below are selected pages from the 1920’s Catalog showing the Heym patented design and some of the models of hunting guns offered.
The following images are courtesy of the Auction House-