In less than 30 years, Oscar F. Mossberg transformed his small three-person operation of manufacturing guns in his backyard barn to one of the most prominent firearms producers in the U.S. “O.F. was a pioneer in the industry,” an admirer wrote, “a pioneer just as much as our hardy forefathers who set forth into the wilderness to conquer the Western plains.” Mossberg’s descendants continue to follow his blueprint more than 80 years later, producing quality guns and selling them for an affordable price.
Inventor for Hire
Oscar F. Mossberg spent many hours tinkering in his father Emanuel’s workshop. He was a designer first and a manufacturer and businessman second. “Always on my visits at the Mossberg factory,” one employee wrote years after Mossberg found success, “I would find him in a little cubby-hole known as the experimental department; not content to manufacture, but designing — designing some improvement, some advance feature to satisfy the American boy.”
In 1886, Mossberg left Sweden for the U.S. and settled in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He was first employed in a boiler factory but took a position with Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works in its bicycle department in the early 1890s. Iver Johnson took notice of Mossberg’s ingenuity, and the young Swedish immigrant began to work on firearms. He toiled alongside Andrew Fyrberg on the “hammer the hammer” design that made Iver Johnson’s company famous. Mossberg filed his first patent for a barrel strap catch for revolvers in 1893. This was the first of many patents he filed during his life.
In 1900, Mossberg left Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works to work for C.S. Shattuck Arms Co. Started by American Civil War veteran Maj. Charles S. Shattuck, the company focused on producing inexpensive firearms. Mossberg worked for Shattuck for two years as the superintendent of production for breech-loading rifles. He then took a position as a gun designer with J. Stevens Arms & Tool Co. He purchased equipment from his former boss, Shattuck, and set it up in his barn behind the family home. With his two sons, Iver and Harold, he worked nights and weekends designing his own firearm while still working days at J. Stevens Arms & Tool Co. It resulted in the first gun designed, produced and sold by the Mossbergs.
The ‘Invisible Defender’
In 1906, Mossberg patented the “Novelty,” a semi-automatic top-break .22 pocket pistol. Christened the “Invisible Defender,” the trio produced around 500 of these squeeze pistols over two years. Mossberg eventually sold the production rights to Shattuck, who renamed it the “Unique” and produced a few thousand pistols in three different calibers until he ceased production in 1915.
In March 1919, Mossberg officially established his own company with his sons and called it O.F. Mossberg & Sons. “It was a family affair, and each of the three opinions was always pooled,” an observer noted. “The two sons admitted the superior mechanical ideas of the father. He designed, they built.”
Five months later, Mossberg filed a patent for a four-barreled pocket pistol. The “Brownie” was the first firearm manufactured by the company. It was handy and simple to operate. The pistol was marketed as “protection at a trifling sum,” and retailed for around $5. After the success of the Brownie, the Mossbergs next turned to producing affordable rifles.
O.F. Mossberg & Sons Turns to Rifles
By 1922, O.F. Mossberg & Sons began to manufacture rifles. It first introduced a hammerless .22 rifle known as the Model K. Oscar F. Mossberg bought the design and tooling for the Savage Model 1903 from Arthur Savage and began to produce an improved version of it. In 1932, Mossberg discontinued all of the company’s previous designs and focused on producing bolt-action rifles.
Most Americans could not afford to buy a gun let alone put food on the table during the Great Depression. Mossberg cut the cost to manufacture guns and sold them for a low price so anyone could purchase one. “He insisted that he did not want to make a lot of money on the individual gun,” a former employee stated. “He would prefer to make a lot of guns at a small unit profit.” Though he was selling more guns at a cheaper price, Mossberg refused to sacrifice the quality of his guns.
After Oscar F. Mossberg’s death in 1937, his oldest son, Iver, took over as president. At the beginning of the Second World War, government contracts for machine gun and rifle parts made up 27 percent of the company’s total business. However, by 1942, it comprised all of the company’s business. Many U.S. servicemen completed their preliminary training with Mossberg’s .22 caliber Model 44 U.S. before heading overseas. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, O.F. Mossberg & Sons dedicated all of its marketing activities to aid the war effort. For instance, it supplied thousands of copies of The Guidebook to Rifle Marksmanship to novice shooters. O.F. Mossberg & Sons would continue to serve as an authority on gun safety and basics for years to come.
‘More Gun for the Money’
Harold assumed control of the company when his brother Iver died in 1945. Five years later, he officially adopted the “More Gun for Your Money” slogan. Like his predecessors, Harold continued to make quality guns and sell them cheaply. He was always looking for ways to make them better. “It didn’t matter if you were one of the top engineers or one of the hundred machine operators,” one employee noted, “if you had an idea to make a better product, Harold wanted to hear about it.”
Carl H. Benson succeeded Oscar F. Mossberg as the company’s lead designer beginning in the late 1940s. Of all his designs, the Model 500 pump-action shotgun was Benson’s most successful model. Recognized for its quality and durability, the Model 500 has remained relatively the same ever since it was first introduced. One notable feature that set the Model 500 apart from other shotguns was the top thumb safety located on the back of the receiver. The shotgun’s interchangeable barrels also made it extremely versatile, allowing shooters to swap them based on their needs. More than 10 million Model 500s have been manufactured since it was first released in 1961.
O.F. Mossberg & Sons has manufactured over 50 different bolt-action rifles, scopes, sights and shotguns since Oscar F. Mossberg and his sons began hammering out Novelty pistols in their barn. The company is still family-owned and operated. Alan Iver Mossberg, Jr., Oscar F. Mossberg’s great-grandson, is the company’s current CEO. On its 100th anniversary, O.F. Mossberg & Sons released the MC1sc pistol, paying tribute to its humble beginning. After a century of production, O.F. Mossberg & Sons is still offering reliable guns for the best price to consumers around the world.
Feature image of Oscar from O.F. Mossberg & Sons
Note: The book Mossberg: More Gun for the Money was an indispensable resource to writing this article.
Havlin, Victor, and Cheryl Havlin. Mossberg: More Gun for the Money. Minneapolis, MN: Blue Book Publications, Inc., 1995.