March 18, 2022
By D. Faubion
This year, Federal Ammunition celebrates its 100th anniversary. I recently went on a hunt in west Texas with Federal employees J.J. Reich and Clinton Allen. Between hunts, we discussed the fascinating history behind this once-modest operation. What began as an idle factory in Anoka, Minnesota, is now a worldwide leader in shotshell, handgun, rifle, and rimfire ammo. Enjoy!
1. Bankruptcy to Boom
The original Federal plant was built by Louie and Harry Sherman in 1916. Situated on 31 acres of land on the outskirts of Anoka, the plant was geared toward shotshell production. However, the ambitious goals of the brothers never came to fruition. Due to the end of World War I, as well as conflicts with investors, the Sherman brothers left the company before production hit its stride. By 1920, the Federal plant sat idle.
2. The Godfather
If not for one man, Federal as we know it would never have existed. The man behind Federal’s resurrection was Charles L. Horn who, in 1922, was president of the American Ball Co., a Minneapolis business that made BB shot. What led Horn to Anoka wasn’t the prospect of shotshell production; his interest was in the machinery to make paper tubes to hold air rifle BBs. Instead of buying the equipment, Horn was convinced to purchase the entire plant. This was the beginning of today’s Federal.
Horn was the president of Federal from 1922 to 1974. During his remarkable 52-year run as the president of Federal, Horn turned a failed and bankrupt brand into one of the largest ammunition manufacturers in the world.
3. BB Tubes
Federal’s first product didn’t go boom. Instead, it was a paper tube and cap to hold BBs. Charles Horn said that air rifle shot was the perfect business because every boy between 6 and 15 had a BB gun. Federal’s BBs could initially be ordered in lead, steel, or cadmium-plated steel. However, cadmium proved to be highly toxic and was dropped in 1937. BBs stayed in the Federal lineup until 1976.
4. Federal Goes to War
By the end of the ’30s, Federal had made billions of shotshells and rimfire cartridges and untold numbers of BB tubes but no centerfire pistol or rifle ammo. World War II quickly changed that.
The first military order was by the British, who purchased 1.4 million mortar ignition cartridges in 1940. These stubby 12-gauge blanks were inserted into mortar bombs just before firing.
U.S. orders followed soon after. Interestingly, Federal still supplies primers for mortars and grenade launchers to this day.
Federal’s greatest contribution to the war effort was building and operating the massive Twin Cities Ordnance Plant (TCOP). Construction began in August 1941, and by July 1943, over 26,000 employees were producing .30-, .45-, and .50-caliber ammunition. The original contract was for 100 million rounds. However, by war’s end, over 5 billion rounds had been produced by the TCOP employees.
Today, reloading is common among shooters. However, it wasn’t always that way. Federal only entered the reloading market in the early ’50s to supply the growing demand from shooters who returned from the war and began reloading for surplus military arms. Federal began offering primers to reloaders in 1951.
Today, a bewildering assortment of reloading components are available at federalpremium.com. From high-quality brass and primers to the most cutting-edge projectiles like the Terminal Ascent, modern reloaders have far more options than those in the ’50s did.
6. Anoka City Hall
Charles Horn supported Federal’s hometown of Anoka since the beginning. One of the more interesting stories revolves around the construction of Anoka City Hall, which Federal helped build in the early ’50s by donating $600,000 ($6.14 million in current dollars).
Some say Horn arranged for the city hall to be built in the shape of a pistol (as seen in the outline of the image). That may or may not be true, but either way, the town of Anoka has thrived due to Federal’s presence, employing generations of workers and generating untold sums of money for the community and state.
7. Centerfire Ammo
For modern shooters, it’s hard to believe that Federal was only a shotshell and rimfire company for the first 40 years. Yet the production of billions of rounds of centerfire ammo for the war effort proved that Federal could offer American shooters even more. In 1963, they launched the first lines of centerfire rifle and pistol ammunition. Over the next 60 years, Federal has led the industry with a wide array of innovative and diverse offerings in every imaginable cartridge.
8. Cartridge Carrier
In 1971, Federal centerfire cartridges began being offered in plastic cartridge carriers. These could be threaded onto any belt or carried in a pocket to keep rounds secure and clean. Clever idea.
9. Federal Premium
Until the 1970s, factory ammo was nothing special. Companies aggressively marketed ammunition made in-house with their own products. Everything from the cases and powder to bullets and primers were just, well, standard. That all changed in 1978 when the Federal Premium line was introduced.
This unique approach utilized elite components sourced from only the best manufacturers. Primers were manufactured to the tightest tolerances and the greatest consistency standards in the world. Propellants for the Premium line have always been the best powder makers can provide, rigorously wrung out in each specific cartridge. Each bullet and weight combination is tested and scrutinized until there is no doubt what works best.
Federal Premium was a bold move for an ammo maker — one that forever changed the ammunition world. To this day, Federal Premium is still going strong, leading the market in high-performance ammo options.
10. Gold Medal UltraMatch
No Olympic shooter firing American ammunition had earned a spot on the podium since the Rome Olympics in 1960, and prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the USA Shooting team hoped to change that. The team approached Federal president Ron Mason, who determined his engineering team could pro- duce world-class rimfire ammo. And they did.
In 1990, Federal launched Gold Medal UltraMatch ammo, which was directly marketed toward the top shooters in the world. USA Shooting team member Launi Meili used Gold Medal UltraMatch to win gold at the 1992 Olympics in smallbore rifle, validating Federal’s commitment to precision ammo.
11. Federal Fusion
Since the first smokeless load pushed lead alloy bullets faster than they could handle, cupping a lead core in a copper jacket has served to create useful whitetail deer bullets that are accurate, relatively predictable, and affordable. It was enough.
Or perhaps it wasn’t. What if you could have an extremely accurate, ultimately predictable bullet at the same cost?
In 2005, the Federal Fusion was released. It features a lead alloy core that’s precision formed to perfect shape and then electrochemically plated with copper one molecule at a time. Thickness, taper, everything is created to perfection.
The Federal Fusion is one of the all-time great hunting bullets. How it performs this well at such a low price is one of the great mysteries of life.
12. .338 Federal
The first rifle cartridge with Federal in its name rolled out in 2006. Developed in cooperation with Sako, the .338 Federal offered a step up in power and penetration from its parent case, the .308 Win. By necking the .308’s case up to .338-caliber, the .338 Federal is extremely efficient, hard-hitting, and only produces moderate recoil.
For big game taken at traditional ranges (inside of 300 yards), the .338 Federal is a superb round. While it never took off in a market dominated by 6mm, 6.5mm, 7mm, and .30-caliber cartridges, the .338 Federal is notable for being the company’s first cartridge to carry the Federal name.
13. Federal and Conservation
Federal president Charles Horn was a big believer in conserving the natural environment, a notion that was by no means universally accepted in the 1930s. Some of the earliest contributions was a series of spots in national publications, touting sound hunting principles like careful shooting, moderation in taking game, and even safe driving.
In addition to educating hunters and shooters, Federal has been a longtime supporter of 4-H youth programs (starting in 1934), the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the NRA, Boy Scouts of America, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, NWTF, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ruffed Grouse Society, Safari Club International, and Whitetails Unlimited to name just a few.
14. Terminal Ascent
The Terminal Ascent is probably the best hunting projectile ever created. It’s a modernized refinement of the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, a design that spawned the excellent Trophy Bonded Tip and the Edge TLR. Featuring a solid metal shank and bonded lead frontal core with a composite tip, the Terminal Ascent is a match-grade hunting bullet that performs predictably up close and at extended distance. In fact, it’s so good that it qualified for its own ammo line named — you guessed it — “Terminal Ascent ammo.”
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