Monday, July 23, 2018

Firearm Factory of the Month: Parker Brothers

It has been called "America's Finest Shotgun" and few would argue that statement. They have been owned by royalty and farmer alike. When found for sale today they command lofty prices.
The story of the Parker Brothers shotgun and the factory that produced them start with one Charles Parker.
Charles Parker was born in 1809 in Cheshire, Connecticut. He is from one of the oldest families in America. The sixth generation descendant of William Parker, who along with some others founded the city of Hartford Connecticut in 1635. He was also a member of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Charles Parker began his career at the height of the industrial revolution. In the spring of 1832 he purchased an acre of land between High and Elm Streets and Main & Charles streets in Meriden Connecticut and built a stone shop on it.

He soon after formed the Charles Parker Company to make coffee mills for which he had recently obtained a contract for. Later he added tools, tableware, cups, lamps, piano stools and other housewares. 

His original investment was just $70 (about $1,400 today).
This first factory was originally powered by a blind horse hitched to a "sweep pole". 
His success allowed him to install the first steam engine in the area, the year was 1844.
Charles Parker had a knack for manufacturing, so naturally people with an idea and some money to invest wanted to work with him. His company merged with others over the years to produce an ever widening variety of products. 

In 1854  Snow, Brooks and Company built a foundry and factory on Cherry Street, right next to the rail road tracks. By 1861 Charles Parker and his brothers bought controlling interest in the company. At that time Snow, Brooks and Co. was making steam engines, pumps, gears and other components. Circa 1861 the company was renamed Parker's Snow & Company.

In April of 1861, the Civil War broke out, Parker's Snow & Company received a contract to produce 15,000 Springfield rifles and 10,000 repeating rifles. Suddenly Charles Parker found himself in the gun business. 

In December of 1864 the Cherry Street operation was renamed the Meriden Manufacturing Company.

After the War ended the workforce was slimmed down as the contract for the Civil War rifles and muskets ended. Considerable expense had been made in the gun making equipment and considerable experience had been Charles Parker's team began working on designs for civilian arms.

In 1865/1866 Meriden Manufacturing began to produce a shotgun under contract for Charles Parker (who was majority owner). The shotguns were marketed as "Made by the Meriden Man'f Co. for Charles Parker"

It should be noted that readers should not confuse these shotguns with ones made by the Meriden Firearms Company which, also located in Meriden, came along later.

There were an estimated 700 shotguns made with the Meriden moniker, they were marketed as "The gun of 1866", perhaps implying this was the only gun of any importance made in 1866, I think Winchester would argue otherwise....

Charles Parker was not just wealthy, but also an influential figure in Meriden, in 1867 he was named the first mayor of the town 

Interest in Parker's shotgun was great enough that in 1867 Charles, along with his sons William and Dexter, started the Parker Brother's Gun Company utilizing the factory and equipment at the Cherry Street complex.
It should also be noted that by this time Charles Parker owned numerous businesses in Meriden, with annual sales exceeding $2M (over $31 Million today).

The other owners of Meriden Manufacturing sold out their shares to Parker and by 1869, he was the sole owner. 
This company remained separate from the shotgun operation and remained in business well into the 1970's

Back to the shotguns, the Parker Brother's shotguns were being produced in the Cherry Street factory. 
This was just a few blocks from the Charles Parker/Meriden Manufacturing factory between Elm and High Streets.

This map from 1875 shows both the Parker Brothers Shotgun factory (#25) on Cherry Street and Charles Parker Co located between Elm and High (#16). Click on the map for a higher resolution image.

Charles Parker died in 1902. The company remained in place making fine quality shotguns until 1934 when they were purchased by Remington Arms. 

The factory remained busy until 1938, when production was moved to Remington's Ilion, New York plant. 
Production of the Parker Gun ceased in 1942, due to Remington's commitment to the war effort.

In all there were approximately 242,000 Parker Brother's Shotguns made during the 76 years (from 1866 through 1942).  
Google Maps shows 31 Cherry Street as the last address on Cherry Street and there is an old abandoned brick building there. This building was probably part of the Parker complex, or the address used to be the large building that used to stand at the end of the road.

I found this picture of  the factory, showing it right on the railroad tracks.

Here is a drawing from 1893, probably about the same time as the picture above. The train in the drawing is crossing Cherry Street.


I have read that the main factory building caught fire in 1980 dues to someone throwing a cigarette butt on the floor. The building was demolished after the fire.

There are only a couple of buildings left, the one above at 31 Cherry Street and this one at 26 Cherry Street.

To the North of these two buildings is the clear outline of an old foundation and red brick rubble, this is where the main building was as shown in the 1875 map

Another map, this one from 1884 shows the Parker Bros complex.

One last view of the area as it looks today

American Rifleman
Parker Guns
NRA Museum 
Meridien Hall of Fame
Maps of Antiquity 
Yale University 
Connecticut Mills

The Parker Gun: It's History and Evolution by Louis C. Parker III, American Society of Arms Collectors
URL link

Franco, Janis L.,(2010), Images of America: Meriden, Charleston, N.C., Arcadia Publishing 

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