Saturday, October 5, 2019

Firearm Factory of the Month: L.C. Smith / Hunter Arms

As with many of these gun stories, the tale includes other gun makers like Baker, Marlin, Hunter Arms and Ithaca Gun Company......
The story begins with the Smith family of Lisle, New York.

The patriarch of the Smith Family, Lewis Smith had been in the gun business since the 1860s. Working with William Baker in Marathon, New York they built shotgun and three barreled guns, mostly designed by Baker.
Lewis's sons Leroy & Lyman were brought into the business. In 1874 the operation was moved to Lisle, NY.

Sometime during this L.C. married into a wealthy family and had the capital to invest further into Baker's operation, becoming a partner in the business.

The operations were soon moved to bustling Syracuse NY and renamed W.H. Baker & Co, the year was 1877.

Lyman Cornelius (L.C.) Smith: 

They moved to a building at 20 Walton Street in Syracuse, NY (near Armory Square).

In 1870 Alexander T. Brown comes to work for the W.H. Baker Company as a lathe operator.

In 1880 Baker and Leroy Smith left the company to start another venture in Ithaca, NY. This new venture would become known as the Ithaca Gun Company.

L.C. Smith purchased the Baker shares and brought in his younger brother Wilbert. The company was renamed the L.C. Smith Co.

It should be noted that Alexander T. Brown was one of the most prolific inventors of his time, having received patents for automotive transmissions, the pneumatic tire, a telephone switchboard and other important items. 

Brown redesigned the Baker shotgun, making it a new gun altogether. Although some say he just modified things enough to get around the Baker patents to avoid future payments.

During his time at the shotgun factory Brown had messed around with some typewriter designs and convinced the Smiths that they could make money by manufacturing typewriters.
In 1886 they started the Smith Premier Typewriter Company, Smith brothers Monroe and Hurlburt joined the company.


By 1888 the typewriter business was far outpacing the shotguns and the shotgun production was curtailed. A year later the rights and designs were sold to John Hunter of Fulton, NY.

The Smith family wasn't completely done with the gun business, during WWII their typewriter company, the Smith-Corona Typewriter Co., would be tapped by the US Army to build M1903-A3 rifles.

In 1889 the remaining guns, parts and equipment were moved 25 miles to the north to Fulton, NY. Which starts the second chapter of the L.C. Smith Shotgun.

John Hunter Sr was in the railroad business, but was looking to get into the gun business. He had started to make plans to produce a shotgun designed by Fulton resident Harry Comstock, but ended up buying the L.C. Smith design. It is not known if Comstock's design ever got built, but Comstock did go to work for the Hunter family, as a salesman he traveled far and wide taking orders for the L.C. Smith and Hunter branded shotguns.

In 1889 Hunter built a new factory on the banks of the Oswego River to build his guns. I would presume the location was chosen due to the lack of electricity in upstate NY and the river was needed to power the machines.

Note the leather belts and gas lamps

In 1945 for reasons unknown to this author, the Hunter Arms Company sold the gun designs and rights to the L.C. Smith Shotgun line to Marlin Firearms (although they still made and sold other guns of their own design).
Marlin produced the gun until 1950. 

That same year (1950) a floor collapse at the Fulton factory, caused Hunter Arms to suspend operations. The plant fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down.

Marlin revived the L.C. Smith Shotgun for limited production in 1967, then ended production for good in 1971.

The Hunter produced guns were of exceptional quality and are collected by hundreds of shotgun enthusiasts today.

Timeline of events

1835 - William H. Baker is born (presumably in upstate NY)
1850 - March 31st, L.C. Smith is born in Torrington, CT
1854 - November 21st, Alexander T. Brown is born in Scott, NY 
1874 - W.H. Baker & the Smith family begin making guns in Lisle, NY
1877 - W.H. Baker teams up with L.C. & Leroy Smith to build shotguns and three barreled guns in Syracuse
1880 - Baker and Leroy Smith leave the company to form Ithaca Gun Company
1880s - The company name is changed to L.C. Smith Company and Alexander T. Brown is brought in to redesign the shotgun
1889 - The L.C. Smith shotgun operation and name are sold to John Hunter of Fulton, NY
1910 - L.C. Smith dies at the age of 60
1929 - Alexander T. Brown dies at the age of 74
1945 -  The L.C. Smith line of shotguns is sold to Marlin
1950 - A collapse at the Hunter Arms factory forces a decision to cease operations 
1950 - Marlin decides to quit producing the L.C. Smith Shotgun
1967 - The L.C. Smith Shotgun is produced in limited quantities at the old Marlin New Haven plant
1969 -  Marlin closes the New Haven plant, moves to North Haven
1971 - The last L.C. Smith Shotgun is produced at Marlin's North Haven plant.
2007 - Remington buys Marlin Firearms
2011 - Remington closes the Marlin North Haven plant


What remains

The original factory at 20 Walton Street in Syracuse no longer far as I can tell the address doesn't exist today because of a restructuring of the addresses or Walton street was cut off at Clinton street at some point. The whole area is now called Armory Square, a reference to the Jefferson Street Armory just a couple of blocks from where the WH Baker factory stood. The first Armory was built in 1859 and was probably the reason for Baker & the Smith brothers to set up shop in this neighborhood.

The Hunter Arms plant on the banks of the Oswego River fell into ruins after the Hunter company left it in 1950.

What resides at the location now is a freight forwarding warehouse called "Patterson Warehousing"

The old Marlin Plant in New Haven still stands, Marlin moved to a new plant in North Haven in 1968/69

The Marlin North Haven Plant still stands as well, but Remington (the new owners of Marlin) closed it down in 2011

American Rifleman
Fulton History

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