If our Civil War had been traumatic, then the immediate aftermath was equally so. While the fabric of the nation had avoided being torn in two, it was badly tattered on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Besides the physical damage of the war, the former social and property structure of the South was totally demolished. And, while victorious, the North was facing an economic disaster.
The cost of the war had escalated the national debt to a then-astronomical three billion dollars. Countless factories that had tooled up for the war effort now had to convert their production lines to civilian products and to find markets for those products.
This need also applied to E. Remington & Sons, but in a different manner. Its basic business, and commitment, for the future was to produce firearms. And, although almost all Remington contracts for supplying the military were terminated at the war’s conclusion, that commitment wasn’t to change. Remington now faced a desperate need to find other markets for its arms production, either civilian or military. That wasn’t going to be easy, since a number of other armsmakers faced the same need and were now direct competitors.
The most immediate opportunities seemed to be in the West for civilian arms and overseas for military types. Remington pursued both, with surprisingly greater success at the latter. By the end of the war, the number of states had reached thirty-six and extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Including eleven remaining territories, the nation’s borders were then the same as those of today’s contiguous forty-eight states. However, in a stroke of good fortune equal to that of the Louisiana Purchase, the nation’s last, huge land acquisition was about to occur. Russia, believing that the fur-producing resources of its Alaskan territory had been ”tapped out,” and fearing loss of its defenseless province to Great Britain, offered it to the United States. In what was primarily a gesture of good will, we accepted this seemingly remote wilderness in 1867 for an astonishing bargain of $7,200,000.
Despite this lucky acquisition, the times were not easy. A European-triggered financial panic in 1873 threw the nation into a severe economic depression. It was in this atmosphere that E. Remington & Sons struggled to build a civilian market among consumers who had little or no extra money.
Nevertheless, the postwar decades produced a number of historically significant Remington firearms that included a broad line of handguns, the famous Hepburn-designed target rifles, and the internationally marketed Rolling Block military rifles. The period also saw the early beginnings of two other Remington product lines that were to become the ultimate cornerstone of the company’s growth and success in the 20th century—repeating rifles and shotguns.
The favorable government response to the designs of Fordyce Beals and William Elliot had led to sales of over 133,000 revolvers of various types to the military during the Civil War. Now, with the frontier atmosphere of the Great Westward Movement creating a need for personal protection weaponry, Remington first attempted to exploit the civilian market with a line of percussion revolvers.
However, the future of slow-loading percussion guns was already doomed by the development of self-contained cartridge ammunition and related new designs for cartridge guns. As a result, a far greater portion of Remington production efforts during the final years of the 1860s was spent converting existing percussion revolvers to cartridge versions. Unfortunately, later Remington-originated cartridge revolvers such as the Model 1875 Army Revolver never attracted sufficient sales among either military or civilian markets to make Remington a major player in this field.
New Remington guns that enhanced the company’s reputation, if not its profits, during this period were the famous Remington-Hepburn sporting and target rifles. The performance of these rifles made them key players during the so-called “Golden Age of Single-Shot Rifles” of the 1870s and 1880s. One of the first won the famous Creedmoor match against the Irish team in 1874. The Remington-Hepburn No. 3 rifles in various forms became the Cadillac of highly accurate, precision-shooting rifles during this period. However, these single-shot models were not “everyman’s” guns and total sales weren’t great enough to stem Remington’s looming economic problems of the 1880s.
Two other developments at the time had little effect on immediate Remington fortunes but became the seeds of what would ultimately grow into some of Remington’s greatest sales successes of the 20th century.
The introduction of the Remington-Whitmore double-barrel shotgun in 1873 was the company’s first venture into shotguns for the nation’s growing fascination with bird hunting and, later, clay target shooting. Then, in 1878, a somewhat itinerant gun designer, James Lee, invented the first truly workable bolt-action magazine-fed rifle. Subsequent Remington-Lee Magazine Rifles, both military and sporting models, were to become the basis for the British and American military rifles of World War I and Remington bolt-action sporters well into the middle of this century.