Friday, October 9, 2020

Firearm Factory of the Month: Ithaca Gun Company






We'll start this story with the two men responsible for founding the company.
A man by the name of William H. Baker was born on Christmas Day in 1835 somewhere in upstate New York. At the age of 24  he hung up his shingle and went to work as a gunsmith in the town of Greene, NY. We don't know the details of his training, but he soon was to design his own shotgun.
Readers should not confuse this William H. Baker with another William H. Baker, also born in upstate NY, although 7 years earlier. This other Baker went on to serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives...nor should they confuse our Baker with another shotgun maker with the same name (Ezekiel Baker) who lived in London and died when our Baker was an infant.

Throughout the 1860s and 1870s Baker applied for and received several patents for shotgun designs. In 1863 he went into business with a man named Lewis Smith in the town of Marathon, NY. They produced double barrel shotguns and three barreled (drilling) rifles designed by Baker.
In 1874 Baker and Smith moved to nearby Lisle, NY. At this time Smith's two sons, Leroy and Lyman (aka L.C.) joined the organization and were educated in the gun business.

In 1877, with the financial backing of Leroy and L.C. they started a new venture called W.H. Baker & Co. moving once again, this time to Syracuse, NY.

Three years later (1880) Baker and Leroy Smith left W.H. Baker and Co. to start a new gun making business in Ithaca, NY. 
Joining them were local businessmen Dwight McIntyre and John Van Natta.

The organization known W.H. Baker & Company back in Syracuse, was renamed L.C. Smith Co. and another Smith brother, Wilbert, was brought into the business. L.C.'s internal designer, Alexander Brown, set about to redesign the Baker shotgun to avoid patent disputes....he later developed a typewriter which set in motion a whole new path for the company. See my post on L.C. Smith here.

Little is known about McIntyre and Van Natta except that they were local to Ithaca and had the means to invest in businesses.


In February of 1883 the four were able to purchase the old Fall Creek Hub & Spoke factory that sat on the edge of Fall Creek. Known was "Water Power Lot #6" it came with water power rights. Remember this was before electricity and unless you had an expensive steam engine, you needed water to power machines. A side note, the cave flume and apparatus used to funnel water into the factory was designed by Ezra Cornell, the founder of Cornell University.

By 1883 Ithaca operation were building one of Baker's shotgun designs, calling it the "Ithaca Baker", apparently Baker's name carried some weight with the gun buying public.

In 1886, for reasons unknown, Baker decides to leave the Ithaca partnership and move back to Syracuse to work with his brother, Ellis L. Baker, who had recently formed the Syracuse Forging Company. See my post on the story of this company here.

Meanwhile Leroy and his brother-in-law George Livermore purchase Baker's shares and formed a new company. The Ithaca Gun Company. Infused with new capital the company purchased the water power lot directly downhill, giving them more power and more space to expand.
They constructed a new factory in 1890, it was 36 feet wide and 165 feet long, with two stories and a basement.



In 1895 Smith and Livermore bought out McIntyre and Van Natta.


In 1902 Leroy Smith passed away, leaving his shares in the business to his son Louis (Lou). Lou had grown up at the factory, learning every stage of construction and had been the company's only salesmen for 17 years. Lou gave additional stake in the business (to equal 50%) to his uncle George. For many years the Smiths and Livermores took turns at the executive positions. 
Lou's son Charles (Leroy's grandson) came to work at the company after retiring as a pilot, George's son Paul (Lou's cousin) also joined in the family business.

The Ithaca Gun Co. circa 1918




In 1936 the company introduced an exact copy of the Remington model 17, they called it the model 37. This shotgun would come to define the company.

During the second World War Ithaca produced M1911A1 pistols under contract.
During the Korean War they produced the M3A1 "Grease Gun" for the U.S. troops fighting the spread of Communism.

After the deaths of the family elders, the new generation was not interested in running a gun company and in 1967 they sold the business to Jerry Baldritch & Associates (who later became General Recreation Inc.).

Ithaca Gun Co. factory circa 1951


By the late seventies General Recreation was in financial trouble and had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They closed the plant for several months in 1978. A year later the reorganized and reopened the plant.
By 1985 General Recreation was out of business and the Ithaca factory sat idle.
Two years later (1987) a new owner acquired the remains of the company and moved operations to King Ferry, NY.








In 2005, the owner's received a grant to move their operations to Auburn, NY, but the plans fell through and there is some debate as to how many guns, if any were actually produced at the Auburn location.
A short time later the assets, trademarks and rights were sold to Floyd Marshall of Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
Marshall went about converting the drawings into CNC files to facilitate faster and cheaper automated machining.
Unfortunately Marshall was not able to get enough capital to get manufacturing off the ground and he was forced to sell everything to a man named Dave Dlubak.

Today the company is alive and well, producing shotguns in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

Guns:

From the very beginning Ithaca was a shotgun company. Besides the Baker designs, the Smith/Livermore team had come up with some of their own improvements.
in 1907 they purchased the patent rights to a simple shotgun design, patented by Emil Flues in 1895. The double barreled shotgun became the best selling double in the U.S. selling more than 226,000 units between 1908 and 1926.




In 1916 Ithaca acquired the LeFever Arms Company of Syracuse. Ithaca built the LeFever hammerless shotgun until 1921, but continued to use the LeFever name on their "box lock" double until 1941.

The Ithaca/LeFever Nitro Special:


Anxious to get into the pump shotgun market, Ithaca made plans to produce a copy of the Remington model 17 once the patent had expired. The gun was designed by John Browning, patented in 1915, then redesigned by John Pederson, extending the patent deadline. 

Ithaca had to wait until 1936 and after some refinements in the design, Ithaca introduced their pump shotgun as the Model 37.



During World War II, Ithaca received contracts for their model 37 as well as M1911 pistols, of which they made more than 300,000 of.

the Ithaca M1911A1









During the Korean War, Ithaca produced the M3A1 "Grease Gun" for the U.S. Military




Time Line:

1863 - William Baker and Lewis Smith go into the gun business
1877 - Baker & Smith Brothers from W.H. Baker & Co in Syracuse
1880 - Baker & Leroy Smith move to Ithaca
1883 - Hub & Spoke factory purchased and the "Ithaca Baker" shotgun first produced
1886 - Baker leaves Ithaca, sells his shares and returns to Syracuse
1890 - More land purchased and a new factory is built
1895 - Mcintyre & Van Natta sell their shares
1895 - Ithaca purchases the Wilkes-Barre Gun Company
1902 - Leroy Smith dies
1907 - Ithaca purchases Emil Flues 1895 patent
1908 - Ithaca purchases the Syracuse Arms Company
1916 - Ithaca purchases the Toledo/Union Firearms assets
1916 - Ithaca purchases the LeFever Gun Company
1937 - Ithaca begins production of the model 37
1950 - Uncle George Livermore dies at the age of 104
1952 - Paul Livermore dies at the age of 78
1957 - Lou Smith dies
1967 - Smith family sells Ithaca Gun Company for $2M+
1968 - One Millionth model 37 produced
1978 - Ithaca parent company files for chapter 11, closes factory
1979 - Factory reopens
1985 - Ithaca parent company, General Recreation, goes out of business, factory closed for good
1987 - New owners move operations to King Ferry, NY and begin making shotguns again
1996 - The company is purchased once again
2003 - Two millionth model 37 is produced
2005 - Plans made to move operations to Auburn, NY
2006 - Company sold once more to Floyd Marshall of Upper Sandusky OH
2007 - Company sold again to current owners, production of Ithaca Shotguns resumes
2009 - The Ithaca Gun Factory at 121 Lake Street Ithaca New York is torn down




What Remains:

After being abandoned by the bankrupt General Recreations in 1985 the factory began falling apart and was a frequent target of vandals and thrill seekers. We are fortunate that Cornell University is nearby, the students and their cameras have provided us dozens of photos of the old factory before it was taken down.








This is the flume cave that once brought water from the falls into the factory to power the water wheel(s) which powered the leather belts, which powered the machines


The back side of the building shows the various additions made over the years, no attempt was made to mimic the original brick building.


A look outside one of the factory windows at the iconic Ithaca smoke stack




This second floor office looks out over Lake Street, this very well could have been the office occupied by the many company presidents over the years





In 2009 a permit was grated to tear the old factory down







Here is what the site looked like a couple of years ago, I am told even the smoke stack was taken down








In July of 2018, a developer announced plans to build apartments on the site




The King Ferry factory still stands, it can be found at 901 Route 34 B







The Auburn, New York building is also still standing
















Sources:

History Center

Ithaca Voice

Ithaca Journal

Fecal Face

American Rifleman

Gun Digest

Holt Architects

Flicker - Franklin "Frankie" Crawford



Rachel Hendriks; January 2011; A Site's History: The Ithaca Gun Company; Honors Thesis; Cornell University; Ithaca, New York

Web address: https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/23122


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