• Arthur Savage & Joshua Stevens

    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.

    by Walter Wolk
    Guns & Hunting, January 1962

    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, and he won, and you were out of business. You sweated and 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 shake the world. What do you do? You develop the .22 Long Rifle cartridge - 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 the newly freed slaves. Arthur received an excellent education, but not of a kind calculated to mold a great gun inventor; his studies in college include 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 on those early years, but this is certain: Savage was fascinated by firearms and he had plenty of chance to use them. Seeking new wildernesses 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 missle which he developed with the help of another man; known as the Savage-Halpine torpedo, it was bought by the government of Brazil. But by this time his main interest was, without a doubt, small arms. He knew that big things were happening in the United States, and it was here that 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, NY. 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 half a century, it still bears the same designation and the same basic design. The new cartridge, also Arthur Savage's invention, was the .303 caliber (not ot be confused with the .303 British, a military load of later vintage that was used a great deal in World Waqr II). Soon after its introduction in .303, the gun was offered in a variety of calibers, including .30/30.

    The 99 is a hammerless lever-action lever-action rifle utilizing a short lever throw. It has a rotary magazine rather than the familiar tubular type. In this magazine sharp-pointed bullets could be used; such 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-power, high-pressure ammo could be used safely. Side ejection made possible the mounting of a scope directly over the barrel. More important to most riflemen of that day, the short lever throw made the rifle a lightning-fast repeater.

    As fin as the new arm was, it did not mean immediate easy sledding for Savage. Many of the old mountaineers and frontiersmen were reluctant to try a new - and relatively small - caliber. The .303 was competing with such loads as the old .45/70, but Savage was by no means stumped. In his company's catalog for 1900, he saw to it that there were several testimonials extolling the cartridge as a big-game stopper that had proved itself with one-shot kills on moose, deer, caribou, mountain sheep and grizzly bear. And the real clincher in that catalog was a letter from Mr. E.T. Ezekiel of Wood Island, Alaska, telling how he had actually killed a whale with an expanding .303.

    The Model 99 very quickly made a name for itself as a noteworthy deer killer - a reputation it has rightly kept to this day. The company was a growing success, and it began to bring out additional cartridges, calibers and arms. In 1916 Savage merged with the Driggs-Seabury Ordnance Company of Pennsylvania. Then, during World War I, the firm gave up making sporting arms to produce Lewis machine guns for the Allies. When peace came the company was reorganized under the name Savage Arms Corporation, civilian production was resumed and, in 1920, Savage purchased the famous J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company of Chicopee Falls, Mass.

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