It was 1853 when a little wagon factory opened in Switzerland, a factory that would one day become one of the most famous American gun companies. The Swiss Wagon Factory — Schweizerische Waggon Fabrik — was founded by Heinrich Moser and Conrad Neher for the purpose of manufacturing wagons and railway cars, but it wasn’t long before they moved on to more challenging products: firearms. SIG
Seven short years later, the Switzerland Federal Ministry of Defense opened a competition for a new rifle for the Swiss Army, and the Swiss Wagon Factory decided to toss its manufacturing hat in the ring. By 1860, the Prelaz-Burnand rifle would win the competition and launch a little wagon factory into future firearms renown. This is the story of that wagon shop and what it would become. This is the story of SIG Sauer.
In the Beginning
The name of SIG itself began after the Swiss Wagon Factory won the aforementioned Swiss Army rifle competition. When it won the contract to produce the Prelaz-Burnand rifle, the company changed its name to Swiss Industrial Company — Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft — which is far more easily shortened to SIG no matter which language you’re saying it in. You may know the Prelaz-Burnand as the M1863; the original military contract was for 30,000 rifles, but it appears between 15,000 and 16,000 were made by SIG.
SIG: The Name We Know
Production rolled along for SIG well into the 1900s, doing so well it decided to broaden its horizons. It was the mid-1970s when SIG bought out two companies — Hammerli and J.P. Sauer and Sohn. In 1975, SIG Sauer was born. By that point, SIG was manufacturing a wide spectrum of firearms and had already earned a well-deserved spot in the European gun world. In order to export firearms within the restrictions of Swiss law, it needed a foreign partner, and that is what it got with J.P. Sauer and Sohn, which was located in Germany. Buying J.P. Sauer and Sohn also expanded its firearms expertise exponentially since small arms was the company’s specialty. Shortly after its acquisition of Hammerli and J.P. Sauer and Sohn, SIG decided it was time to make its mark in America. Little did the folks there know just how far that would take them.
SIG got serious about expanding to the United States of America in the early 1980s. The company wanted an international presence in firearms manufacturing and knew America was a vital piece of that puzzle. SIGARMS, the American arm of SIG Sauer, was born in January 1985. When it was brand-new, SIGARMS was located in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, a town with a population today of around 20,000. Since then, SIGARMS has made two moves: first to Herndon, Virginia, in 1987 and again to its current home in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1990.
When SIGARMS first started, its purpose was handling firearms imported by its parent company. It was the move to New Hampshire in 1990 that opened up the company’s ability to handle American-made production guns, and it has grown quite a bit since then. On Oct. 1, 2007, SIGARMS changed its name to SIG Sauer.
Made in America
The company doesn’t just produce firearms here in the States. It also designs and produces everything from ammo to optics.
Tom Taylor, SIG Sauer’s chief marketing officer and executive vice president of commercial sales, succinctly summed this up: “SIG Sauer is an American company, and our firearms are 100 percent manufactured in the USA. Beyond that, and an even lesser known fact, is that SIG Sauer ammunition is made in Arkansas, while SIG Electro-Optics are made in Oregon.”
SIG Sauer Sidearms
Handguns did not become a part of the SIG production line until well into the 1900s. In 1949, the single-action SIG P210 was created, and it was quickly adopted by the Swiss military. Known as the “Pistole 49” at the time, the P210 ended up getting phased out of military use in the late 1970s; the Swiss military and law enforcement wanted an updated gun, and SIG delivered. Its replacement for the P210 was what we now know as the P220.
The P220 was produced for the Swiss military with “SIG Sauer System” engraved on one side of the early production guns, which is thought of as a simplified version of the Petter-Browning design. In 1977, a modified P220 was produced for Browning Arms and was the first of the model to be sold in the U.S. For Swiss law enforcement, there was the compact P230, and both were imported to SIGARMS for sale in the United States beginning in 1985.
Coinciding with the SIGARMS move to Herndon, Virginia, in 1987 was the introduction of the 9mm-chambered P225, P226 and P228. SIGARMS figured out quickly that it would be best to handle production on-site, which is exactly what it started doing with the move to New Hampshire. In 1992, the company broadened its caliber horizons with the .40 Smith & Wesson-chambered P229.
We spoke to Taylor about the current state of the company’s handguns, and he filled us in on some details regarding SIG’s most popular models of handguns and rifles:
“For many years, SIG was known for its classic line of hammer-fired pistols. It is our legacy,” Taylor said. “Today, our best-selling guns are the P365 and P320, striker-fired guns. The P365 high-capacity, micro-compact pistol is the most-awarded and best-selling, gun in America today. We also manufacture several popular rifle lines, including MCX, MPX, M400 (TREAD) and 716. Our rifles serve both the commercial and professional markets.”
One point of curiosity for many SIG fans is just how many iterations of the P320 there are on the market today.
“There are many versions and special make-ups of the P320 in commercial offerings and numerous configurations for military and law enforcement units,” Taylor said. “As for our catalog, we have standard P320s in full and compact sizes, P320 X-SERIES guns in full and compact sizes, the P320 XFIVE LEGION and a number of variants of the P320 with our ROMEO1 reflex optic sight installed from the factory, which is known as the RXP series. And lastly, at the highest level, we offer a civilian version of the U.S. Military M17 and M18. However, because of the modularity of the P320 with an easy, end-user-removable trigger group, or FCU (Fire Control Unit), it can be modified to literally hundreds of configurations with SIG factory components or products from numerous other companies who make P320 components.”
In addition, we asked Taylor about the P365, the subcompact 9mm that rose to popularity with surprising speed.
“There are many variations of the P365 for the commercial and law enforcement market. But the major products in the line are a standard P365, both with and without a manual safety, the P365 XL with and without manual safety, and a P365XL that comes equipped with a ROMEOZero optic installed from the factory,” Taylor said. “Additionally, we have the P365 SAS (SIG Anti-Snag) with a flush-mounted FT Bullseye sight embedded into the slide that removes all the snag points of a pistol for the quick, easy draw you want from a concealed carry pistol.”
SIG has developed and manufactured a great deal of firearms spanning a broad range of sizes, calibers and uses. Whatever you want, SIG probably makes. If you do not like the P365, you may like the P320. If you do not like the P226 Nitron, you may fall head-over-heels in love with the P226 Legion. There are a lot of options out there, and every gun I’ve tested from SIG has been well-made and reliable.
And There’s More to SIG
SIG began producing its own ammunition line in 2014. I was fortunate enough to be among the first to get my hands on the new ammo and have always found that it performs well. The V-Crown line of defense rounds is fantastic and offers reliable expansion and penetration. SIG’s ammunition is manufactured using the company’s own quality brass and bullets, while other components, such as primers and powders, are carefully sourced from American companies. Within four years, in 2018, SIG opened an ammunition plant in Jacksonville, Arkansas, to sharpen its focus on ammunition design and production. SIG also manufactures specialty ammunition for the United States Army’s sniper systems.
Something else that got its start in 2014 is the SIG Electro-Optics line. The optics began production in Wilsonville, Oregon, and all optics are designed, engineered and manufactured on-site. According to the company, those optics are created by top engineers to exacting specifications. If you’re looking for good optics and haven’t checked out SIG’s line, you’re missing out.
Not only are SIG products tested at every stage of research and development, but also throughout development and engineering. Live users — specifically, SIG Academy instructors — test SIG’s products before products are introduced to the general public. Even after those steps are taken, testing continues on an ongoing basis with every product in its line. Data is recorded and tracked for testing and monitored to ensure the products meet the company’s high standards. Quality, safety and reliability are of the utmost importance to SIG.
Today, SIG is one of the most well-respected firearms manufacturers not only in America but also in the world. Because it is a privately held company, it does not release specific numbers regarding production and sales to the general public. The U.S. Firearms Manufacturers Report is the best source of that information, and that report is a few years behind. Suffice it to say that when measured by revenue alone, SIG is the largest manufacturer in the United States.
Something else that makes SIG stand out is the company’s absolute commitment to supporting the Second Amendment. The folks at SIG quite literally put their money into supporting the Second Amendment in a number of ways, including through support of the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and grassroots and state-level advocacy groups. Additionally, the company practices what it preaches regarding safety and training through the SIG Sauer Academy, at which more than 15,000 shooters train each year.
SIG is deservedly proud of the fact that it has maintained production and manufacturing in America instead of moving those elements offshore, as some manufacturers have done. It may have gotten its start in Europe, but today, it’s an established Made-in-America company. SIG represents the American dream and shows what hard work, dedication and persistence can accomplish.