• Savage Arms - Innovation & War Production

    Savage has had an interesting history, as their development occurred about the time of the introduction of smokeless powder which revolutionized rifle cartridges. The history of the company indicates that the original Model 99 Lever Action High Power Rifle, invented by Arthur Savage, continues to be the dominant product in the arms production of the Utica plant.

    The company was quick to take advantage of advances in powder making and cartridge design, and introduced successively the .22 High Power, the .250/3000 and the .300 Savage. During the time these developments were taking place in high-power rifle cartridges, the company began extending their line of firearms by the production of .22 rifles, automatic pistols and, later, repeating and automatic shotguns.

    Through the acquisition of the Stevens Arms Company and other subsidiaries, the company are now manufacturers of the widest variety of sporting arms in the world. Their line embraces all types of .22 caliber, medium-power and high-power rifles, and all styles of shotguns.

    During the period of the development of the .22 High-Power, .250/3000 and .300 Savage cartridges, the company operated their own loading plant but several years ago the manufacture of cartridges was discontinued. The ammunition sold today under the Savage brand is manufactured under contract for them, but Savage continues to maintain an extensive experimental ballistic department.

    Savage has experimented with a great many interesting and novel ideas. Nothing of a ballistic nature has been too novel or too revolutionary for the Savage engineering personnel to consider and to experiment with. As is customary, many of these new ideas failed to work out, but the research was well worth the effort, and in any form of research an organization learns a great deal which can be applied to routine manufacture.

    Savage arms have always undergone rigid inspection of each gun, and each unit is given a very definite proof test, invariably comparing favorably with the proof test required by foreign nations. It is interesting to note that in the United States there is no requirement and no standards for the proof-testing of firearms, as every modern manufacturer so tests his equipment as a safety precaution and for the most part lives up to the English proof-test requirements. In many cases these requirements are exceeded in standard proof tests.

    Savage introduced a great many interesting calibers of cartridges bearing their own name, among them being the .303 Savage, the .22 Savage high-power, and the .250/3000 Savage. Recent years since the World War have seen the introduction of the .300 Savage. All Savage rifles, it is interesting to note, were manufactured definitely with smokeless powder in view as the firm was founded at the beginning of the smokeless powder era of American rifle manufacture. Accordingly, they were not handicapped as were some other manufacturers with equipment and tools designed for the manufacture of black-powder rifles and they began from scratch.

    Among the many things originated by Savage were the solid-breech hammerless principle in repeating rifle construction. This eliminated protruding action parts during the operation of the repeating mechanism. All of this was self-contained within the receiver. In addition, with this mechanism they were able to develop not only a solid breech and top action but the side-ejection principle, and the complete enclosure of all mechanism insured the rifle from a jamming due to foreign material dropping into the action while in the woods.

    Another feature introduced by Savage according to their claims was the general use of helical or coiled wire springs in American sporting rifle and pistol construction. Today this is almost universally used and the flat spring is rapidly falling into the discard. Coil springs are less inclined to give trouble through breakage and loss of tension than the older style flat spring. Savage rifles have generally been conceded to be as trouble free as any sporting arm can be made.

    The design of the Savage rifle, due to its hammerless construction and balance, left little to be desired. In general appearance it was neat, balanced well and stood the acid test of shooting. These original lever-action repeaters in their revised form are extremely popular among lever-action fans today.

    The famous .303 Savage rifle made its original reputation in the hands of those who lived by and with the rifle - professional hunters. The startling success of their original small-bore rifle, the famous .22 Savage known as the "Imp," commenced with its astonishing work on big bear in Alaska and grew with it's appreciative reception by members of forest crews. Developments today indicate that the .22 Hi-Power is an obsolete number and it is far from equal to small-bore calibers recently appearing on the market. It was, however, a pioneer cartridge and this must be conceded today.

    In common with all other commercial firearms manufacturers, Savage entered the Second World War early, discontinuing most of its production of commercial sporting weapons about 1940. And since the J. Stevens Arms Company of Chicopee Falls, Mass., is a part of the Savage organization, it's history cannot well be discussed separately.

    Early in 1940 Savage began to convert much of its facilities to the manufacture of the .45 Thompson sub-machine gun for the British. Soon the Stevens plant was producing some of the components for the famous Model 1928 "Tommy Gun." The Thompson was produced up to about the middle of the war, first for the British, and later for the United States Government. When the M3 sub-machine gun - the stamped-metal product variously named by the public as the "Buck Rogers Gun" and by the GI simply as the "Grease Gun" - was adopted, production of the Thompson was discontinued. Savage manufactured a total of 1,501,000 Thompson guns.

    At Stevens a military rifle was manufactured, first on British contracts, and later for the British under Lend-Lease. Stevens produced the famous Short Lee-Enfield in modified version. This firm apparently did something the British were unable to do - standardize the rifle so that parts were interchangeable. Their latest version of this - there were slight model changes - was the British "No. 4 Mk. 1*" and all models were produced for the .303 British service cartridge.

    Early in the war Stevens experimented with barrels having two wide grooves instead of the conventional 4 or 5-groove barrel. These proved as accurate and as long-lived as the other barrels and became standard in the line.

    Although those Short Lee rifles were never issued to U.S. troops, all manufactured under Lend-Lease were stamped on the receiver, "U.S. Property." The only Stevens identification was a large "S" in front of the model number on the receiver. Stevens acquired two additional facilities in Chicopee Falls to expand their production, and by the time manufacturing was stopped in August 1945, had produced well over 1,000,000 of these modified Enfields.

    The cessation of sub-machine gun manufacture at the Savage plant in Utica, however, did not mean the end of war work for the parent Savage plant. Immediately they converted to the production of United States Caliber .50 M2 Basic aircraft machine guns. In a routine inspection visit to the Savage plant in 1944 while on duty with the Ordnance Department of the Army, this author watched with amazement the precision methods of manufacture Savage was using to produce this heavy weapon. Rejections were lower than most facilities making this weapon, yet manufacturing costs were being reduced, and production was at a faster rate than even the firm had hoped for. Contracts were terminated in August 1945, and show that this one plant delivered 295,361 Caliber .50 guns. In addition, during the early stages of manufacture, they produced 14,800 Caliber .30 Browning Aircraft machine guns, but this program was discontinued when the Air Corps decided that American fighter craft should all be equipped with the much heavier and more powerful .50 caliber to replace the old .30.

    By the time that Savage went into the production of machine guns, all plant facilities were converted and machinery for the manufacture of sporting weapons, long unused, had to be moved out and stored to make room for the machine gun program.

    The end of the war and the problems of re-conversion made a major change in Savage plans. During the summer of 1946, Savage decided to close their Utica arms plant and move all machinery to Chicopee Falls. The Stevens line will be manufactured in the old Stevens works, while the new Chicopee plant, utilized for the manufacture of the British rifle, will be the new home of Savage rifles and Fox shotguns. During the late summer and fall, Savage trucked all machinery to the Massachusetts plant and started production as rapidly as batteries of machines could be set up.

    At press time it appears that full production on Savage rifles will be under way by January 1, 1947. In the future, correspondence concerning Savage rifles should be addressed to the firm at Chicopee Falls, Mass.

    Source: The Rifle in America by Philip B. Sharpe NY: Funks & Wagnalls
    1938, 1947 & 1953. 800 pp. First Edition 1938 by Wm. Morrow & Co.
    Photos courtesy of Google Images

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