Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Firearm Factory of the Month: High Standard Manufacturing

Before telling this story I need to thank David Johnson of the Hamden Historical Society for his contribution. David is a retired Hamden firefighter, a published author and the Town Historian in Hamden.

Without his contribution, this post would just be some words.


The story of High Standard Manufacturing has two beginnings, we'll start with the founder of the company and then move to the gun that made the company what it was.



Carl Gustav Swebilius emigrated to the United States as a young man from a small town in Sweden due west of Stockholm. The year was 1886, he was just 17 or 18 years old.  


Carl Swebilius at the work bench


Swebilius was born the son of a watchmaker and as such had learned to work with small, finely machined parts. When he emigrated to the U.S. he went to live with his Aunt (or his Sister not sure which), who just happened to live in New Haven, Connecticut, smack dab in the middle of gun central. 
Swebilius was hired to work at Marlin in New Haven as a barrel driller, eventually working his way up to Chief Engineer and Gun Designer.
Sometime in the mid 20's Carl left Marlin and worked briefly at Winchester. During that time (circa 1926) Carl formed the High Standard Manufacturing Company to make tools for gun making and other industries.


He set up shop in an brick building at 169 East Street in New Haven, just a few blocks from the harbor.

The building still stands, it is near the I-95 freeway overpass.




Swebilius ventured back into the gun making business in 1932 when he heard about the Hartford Arms and Equipment Company may be for sale. He rallied some investors (made up of current and former co-workers) and with $800 they purchased the assets and patents. That is the equivalent of $13,229 today.
There were enough parts in the inventory to complete around 800 pistols which helped pay for the original investment.

See my post on the Hartford Arms and Equipment Company here.

The Hartford Arms model of 1925





The Hartford Arms model of 1925 was revised and renamed the High Standard Model B.


From 1932 to 1935 Swebilius was working between the two operations in New Haven and Hartford (about 39 miles apart) as well as maintaining employment with Winchester. It is unclear how much time he spent with the High Standard operations.

Sales of the Hartford pistol were doing well enough that Swebilius decided to move the operation to New Haven and condense the two businesses.
They moved into an existing building at 61 Foote Street in New Haven. I found several businesses who used this address prior to High Standard moving there. Ironically one of the companies was named The Standard Equipment Company, they made cinder crushers and sand blasting equipment. Another company made wrenches and other tools called the D&H Manufacturing Company. It is possible that it was one address for an industrial park with many tenants.

The location is now the Wexler-Grant Community School (website here). Their official address is 55 Foote Street, but they occupy the entire block:


In 1939 Swebilius left Winchester to dedicate all of his time at High Standard. Then the war broke out in Europe and the demand for weapons quickly outpaced the European armories ability to keep up. 
In November of 1940 a contract for 12,000 .50 caliber Machine Guns  was awarded to High Standard.
Swebilius and his new company were not prepared for this kind of work, his team scoured New England looking for machinery and tooling. Swebilius found a suitable building on the waterfront in New Haven. It was on the east side of the harbor on Waterfront Street only 4 miles or so from the High Standard plant on Foote Street.
The building was known inside the company simply as "the waterfront building". 



By April of 1941, after modifying the machinery, they were ready to produce the machine guns. They delivered the 10,000th machine gun seven months ahead of schedule, with only one reject. 
In all they built 228,000 guns and rebuilt an additional 25,000 at the Waterfront facility.
Here are some pictures inside the factory, all taken during May & June of 1944.

photos courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society


 




 Swebilius inspecting some barrels


High Standard also produced special models for the U.S. Armed Forces during the war, including the model HDM which had an integral silencer and was adopted by the OSS, word is the gun is still in use by certain "alphabet agencies".




Around 1948 (hard to pin down the exact date, but the 1948 New Haven/Hamden directory had both the Foote Street and Dixwell avenue addresses listed) High Standard built a new plant just up Dixwell Avenue in Hamden. 

Hamden borders New Haven to the North and early ads for High Standard listed the address as being in New Haven. The addresses listed over the years were 1811, 1817 & 1818 Dixwell Ave.
The move allowed them to start building other models such as the Sentinel revolver (see my write up on that gun here.) as well as shotguns.



Here is the new factory looking across Dixwell Avenue taken sometime in the mid to late 1960s

photos courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society




You may notice that the gun models use the moniker "Hi-Standard", while the company is named "High Standard". I am not sure why that is, perhaps to differentiate the firearms from the other products that High Standard made early on.






In 1968  High Standard was acquired by an investment company called "The Leisure Group".  The name changed to High Standard Sporting Firearms and a new logo was adopted.
 


In 1976 Operations were moved to East Hartford and the Hamden factory was sold. 





The East Hartford operation worked out of this large building at 31 Prestige Park Circle, it is now the home of the East Hartford Flea Market



In 1978 the company was purchased by the managers, led by company president Clem Confessore.

By December of 1984 the company was in trouble and its assets were auctioned off. Gordon Elliot who was the national parts distributor for High Standard was the winning bidder. Although he only purchased some of the product lines and the name trademarks.

In early 1993 a new company was formed in Texas to acquire the trademarks and .22 pistol line. The assets including tooling were moved to Houston in July of 1993 and the first of the Houston made guns shipped in March of 1994. See their website here

On Thursday April 29th, 1999 the old Hamden factory caught fire and the buildings torn down and property sold.

photos courtesy of Lt. Jeff Pechmann of the Hamden Fire Department





The location is now a Home Depot



Comparison shot


Two things that rarely change are telephone poles and fire hydrants, in the picture below you can see where the drive way used to be, between the fire hydrant and the telephone pole.

 
The Waterfront building still stands, it is at 100 Waterfront Street in New Haven


here is a comparison shot
  1940s

and today


References
Wikipedia 

The Unblinking Eye

Small Arms Review

Hamden Fire Retirees
Hamden Historical Society

Shooting Sports USA 
Small Arms Review

Ayoob, M. (2012), Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World, Vol.2. Lola, WI: Krause Publications

Brophy, W. S. (1989). Marlin Firearms: A History of the Guns and the Company That Made Them. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

3 comments:

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  2. Thanks for the history, Chase. I am pleased to own a HI STANDARD Model HB, Long Barrel 22LR, serial # 300782 that I believe dates to sometime in 1948. I believe it was my grandfathers. He was an avid hunter and always maintained a pack of coon hounds that were exercised regularly. Although I don't know for sure, I imagine he used it for target shooting and all around plinking. Whatever he did with it, it wasn't much because the gun is in outstanding original condition. Mint is a highly abused term, but this one nearly meets that standard. You really have to look hard to find any flaws, and they are slight. It appears to be a very high quality piece, and I am very glad to have it.

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  3. Can anyone recommend a High Standard gunsmith?
    I have a High Standard Victor and Supermatic Trophy that requires gunsmithing.

    I need the springs replace in both auto pistol.

    Thank You all in advance.

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