Most well-known American gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson, Remington and Colt were established around 150 years ago. Beretta surpasses them by three centuries. It’s first recorded contract occurred on October 3, 1526, when master gunmaker Bartolomeo Beretta agreed to produce and sell 185 arquebus barrels to the Republic of Venice. Despite revolutions, wars, economic turmoil and the revolutionary changes firearms experienced through the past 500 years, Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta has survived and remains the oldest gun manufacturer in the world.

The First Four Centuries of Beretta

1953 Beretta Model 950. (Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

1953 Beretta Model 950. (Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

The Berrettas, like the other craftsmen families in Val Trompia located in northern Italy, relied on the iron ores to forge gun barrels. During the 16th century, Bartolomeo Beretta produced arquebus for the now-defunct Republic of Venice. The family surpassed the other barrel masters in the region due to their superior and innovative products. By the end of the 17th century, the Berettas were listed second in barrel production among the 33 other master barrel makers in Gardone. They manufactured more than 10 percent of the barrels produced in 1698. Even with economic decline in the region and French conquest the latter part of the 18th century, Beretta avoided extinction due to its stellar reputation for producing the finest quality products.

Pietro Antonio Beretta, the 10th Beretta leading the company, brought it into the modern age during the early 19th century. He established relationships and connections with importers, wholesalers and retailers throughout Italy. In 1832, he officially adopted the name Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta for the firm. His eldest son, Giuseppe Antonio Beretta, pushed to make the company self-sufficient by completing the production of the guns from start to finish in-house, rather than relying on outside suppliers. He believed that only by improving and extending the manufacturing and utilizing the best and most recent technology would Beretta be able to offer the finest products to its customers.

The 20th Century

Giuseppe Antonio Beretta’s eldest son, Pietro Beretta, propelled the company to even greater levels during his 54 years as president. He took over the company when his father died in 1903. Ugo Gussali Beretta recalled that his grandfather “was the person who took the talents from the artisan side and made the company into the large-scale operation that it became on the industrial side.” He began to modernize Berettas manufacturing methods and expand its industrial capacity and facilities. For instance, he constructed a hydroelectric plant on the Mella River so that it could rely on its own source of energy. With inventor and gun designer Tullio Marengoni, he produced some of the most well-known shotguns (for hunting, sport and self-defense), pistols and submachine guns in Beretta’s history.

Beretta’s long tradition of supplying military arms in times of war continued during the First and Second World Wars. By 1918, Beretta was producing 4,200 of its Model 1915 9mm automatic pistols per month. The same year, Beretta manufactured a semi-auto machine gun, known as the Model 1918 automatic carbine. At the start of the Second World War, Beretta produced the Model 1934 automatic pistol and the MAB38A automatic rifle for the Italian Army. When German SS troops occupied the Beretta plant, they placed Pietro under arrest, but Italian partisans rescued him. The company managed to recover in the postwar years by using machinery that had been hidden away to resume shotgun production.

Beretta M9

When Pietro passed away at the age of 87 in 1957, his sons Pier Giuseppe and Carlo assumed control of the company. The brothers paid special attention to the production of civilian and military small arms and focused their marketing efforts on international customers. While Giuseppe believed the U.S. market was unique and difficult, he felt it was ripe for Beretta. He personally tested some hunting shotguns intended only for the American market. His son, Ugo Gussalli Beretta, was vital in establishing Beretta USA in 1977 and for obtaining the U.S. Army’s M9 contract.

In 1975, Beretta introduced its highly successful Beretta Model 92 based on the improved version of the Model 1951. It included a double-action trigger, staggered-column magazine, manual safety release and other enhancements. During the 1980s, the U.S. government awarded Beretta a contract to produce 400,000 9mm 92 SB-Fs (M9s) to replace the Army’s aging .45 Colt Model 1911. The Colt had been in service as the U.S. Army’s official sidearm since 1911, but Army officials recognized the 92’s quality and superiority as a handgun. More than 2 million Beretta Model 92s have been produced since the mid-1970s.

The Beretta Way

Beginning with master barrel maker Bartolomeo Beretta over 500 years ago, 16 generations of Berrettas have consecutively managed the firm. The Italian gun manufacturer is rightfully proud of its long tradition. “Certain lessons have been handed down over all these years,” Ugo Gussalli Beretta told the International Herald Tribune in 1987. “We have developed an understanding of quality, and we have learned how to make progress sweetly, always on a steady course, not with big, quick steps.” Beretta is a name that embodies the finest, highest quality craftsmanship in the gun world.

Further Reading

Wilson, Robert L. The World of Beretta: An International Legend. New York: Random House, 2000.

*About the logo seen above:

Pier Giuseppe Beretta adopted the iconic three-arrow logo from a stone engraving located at the entrance to general and poet Gabriele d’Annunzio’s estate on Lake Garda. He replaced the words “Dare in Brocca” (“shoot straight” or “hit the bullseye”) with “PB” — his father’s initials.