Switzerland’s engineering industry flourished during the 1850s. Among the companies established during this period was Schweizerische Waggonfabrik (later SIG). While the firm started in the rail transportation industry, it transitioned to arms manufacturing. It has remained a leader in that industry ever since. The small landlocked country is best known for its policy of neutrality, but the Swiss are also recognized for producing some of the best quality armor and arms dating back to the 15th century. SIG Sauer has continued this tradition of superb Swiss craftsmanship in the 21st century.

From Railway Cars to Rifles

Friedrich Peyer im Hof. (Stadtarchiv Schaffhausen)

Friedrich Peyer im Hof. (Stadtarchiv Schaffhausen)

In 1853, three entrepreneurs from different backgrounds founded Schweizerische Waggonfabrik (Swiss Wagon Factory) in the municipality of Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland. Friedrich Peyer im Hof came from the railroad industry and was a member of the Swiss Parliament; Heinrich Moser was a serial entrepreneur; and Conrad Neher was a prominent iron and steel industrialist. Less than a decade later, the trio pivoted from exclusively manufacturing railway cars to rifles when the Swiss Army adopted the 1859 Prélaz-Burnand system. In 1864, the government contracted Schweizerische Waggonfabrik to produce 30,000 rifles. Around the same time, the company changed its name to Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (Swiss Industrial Company) or SIG.

SIG’s Submachine Guns

Though a short-lived venture, SIG produced several submachine guns. After the First World War, it licensed the production of an improved version of the MP 18 submachine gun named the SIG Bergmann Model 1920. During the ‘30s, it developed the MK series, or Maschinen Karabiner (machine carbine), chambered in 9mm with a 30- or 40-round magazine. Members of the Vatican Swiss Guard carried this well-made and attractive submachine gun. SIG also produced other submachine guns after the MK series, but none had great commercial success, so the company discontinued production in the 1970s. However, in 2015 SIG resumed production when it released the SIG MPX.

P210 and P220

SIG released its first pistol in 1894. But the introduction of the P210 laid the groundwork for the company to become one of the world’s premier pistol manufacturers. Based on the Modèle 1935A, the 9mm pistol had a superior trigger, adjusted safety, a feed ramp and other improvements. In 1949, the Swiss military adopted the extremely well-made, accurate and reliable P210 and named it the P49. (While this video is not in English, it has early footage of the handgun being manufactured.) By the ‘60s, the Swiss Army desired to replace the P49, so SIG offered a pistol with a more modern design, simplified disassembly and barrel, a double-action trigger mechanism, and an aluminum alloy frame. In 1975, after passing rigorous trials, the Swiss Army adopted the P220 and christened it the P75. Modern versions of both pistols are still in production today, a testament to their excellent design.

SIG Sauer Never Settles

During the ‘70s, SIG acquired J.P. Sauer & Sohn, based in West Germany, hence the designation SIG Sauer. J.P. Sauer & Sohn brought more than 200 years of experience to the partnership. Like Beretta in Italy, it had a reputation as one of the oldest and most well-respected firearms manufacturers in Germany. In 1751, Lorenz Sauer founded an arms dealership in Suhl, a region known as a hub for gunsmiths. When he passed away, his son, Johann Paul Sauer, succeeded him. Johann and his sons, Rudolf and Franz, established J.P. Sauer & Sohn. The German company manufactured quality military and hunting rifles and various pistols throughout its long history before merging with SIG.

In 1985, SIG established SIGARMS in Tysons Corner, Virginia, and imported and sold the P220 and P230 in North America. SIG opened a training facility now located at Epping, New Hampshire in 1992. And in 2007, the American-based division officially changed its name to SIG Sauer. In 2015, it relocated its HQ and plant to Newington, New Hampshire. Most recently, in August 2022, SIG Sauer released the P365-XMACRO, designed especially with concealed carriers in mind. Nearly 170 years after it was founded, SIG Sauer continues the tradition of manufacturing guns recognized for their quality, reliability and performance for military, law enforcement and commercial markets.

Feature photo of a circa. 1860 J.P. Sauer single-shot pistol from Heritage Auctions.

Further Reading

Jung, Joseph. The Laboratory of Progress: Switzerland in the Nineteenth Century. Vol. 1. New York: Routledge, 2022.

Lal, Chaman. Switzerland Shows the Way. New Delhi: Thomson Press, Publication Division, 1971.

Vickers, Larry, Ian McCollum, Leonardo Antaris and James Rupley. Vickers Guide: SIG Sauer. Vol. 1. Nashville: Mott Lake Publishing, 2020.