Remington Works

A Concise History

Source:  "History of Herkimer County, New York," Edited by George A. Hardin, assisted by Frank H. Willard, Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1893, pages 204-207

The writer who attempts to make a history of Ilion must give very much of his attention to the founding and growth of the great Remington arms works, which have in recent years passed to other hands.  The farm which Eliphalet Remington (senior) purchased in 1816 lay upon the banks of a small stream (Steele's Creek) in the then wilds of Herkimer county, the waters of which have now almost disappeared.  Young Remington early showed remarkable mechanical genius, and tradition tells of how he constructed a gun for his own use before he reached manhood, an appeal for one to his father having resulted in refusal.  The gunsmith at Utica, to whom the boy's gun barrel was taken for rifling, saw that it was made in an unusually excellent manner and greatly encouraged its maker by his praise.  It should be stated that there was a forge of some kind on the Remington farm, which served the boy's purpose in making the gun barrel.  When the fame of that first production began to spread, as it soon did, young Remington was called on at first by a few and soon by many others to make guns for them.  At first he made only the barrels, but gradually extended his operations to the finishing of the complete guns.  Down to about 1831 the work was prosecuted at the home place, and the demand for the Remington barrels and guns far exceeded the capacity of the insignificant works.

In 1828 the canal had recently been opened and Mr. Remington in searching for a proper and convenient site for the extension of his works, saw with prophetic eye the possibilities offered at Ilion.  He accordingly purchased a large tract of land here and erected his first shop, a low one-story building.  Here he carried on his business, which showed a healthy growth.  In 1835 he purchased of Ames & Co. of Springfield, Mass., their plant of gun-finishing machinery, with a part of an unfinished contract with the United States for some thousands of carbines.  The works were increased, and before the completion of this contract, the rising establishment was given another for 5,000 Harper's Ferry Rifles; and still another followed in quick succession.  About the year 1840, while the capacity of the works was still insignificant compared to their later magnitude, Mr. Remington's sons, Samuel, Philo and Eliphalet, reached manhood and took an active part in the growing business, with the best results.

In 1847 the firm began making pistols, and so simply and efficiently were they constructed that a large market was opened for them at once.  This branch of the business grew to enormous proportions before they took up the manufacture of their well-known army and navy revolver, which was afterwards adopted by the United States government.  For some time previous to 1865 the firm had perfected systems particularly designed for the conversion of muzzle loaders to breech loaders, in rifles.  A carbine embodying the results of their prior experiments in this direction was tested among about sixty others by a board of government officer at Springfield in 1865, and attracted considerable attention.  During the succeeding year valuable improvements were made in the system, after which for many years the Remington was the leading breech-loading arm of the world.  Many governments in the old world adopted it, while large contracts were filled for the United States, and the gross number manufactured reached much more than half a million.  In all of the severe tests made by expert boards for the several governments, including our own, this arm maintained its foremost reputation.  So great was the capacity of the new works that in 1870-71, during a period of about seven months, the enormous number of 155,000 rifles was shipped to the French government - a result altogether unprecedented in the history of similar enterprises.

In January, 1865, the Remington works were incorporated, with Philo Remington as president; Samuel Remington, vice-president; Eliphalet Remington, secretary.  In 1871 Col. W. C. Squire was elected secretary; he was a member of the Remington family by marriage, and is now United States Senator for the State of Washington.  The nominal capital was $1,000,000 while the value of the plant was then placed at $1,500,000.  This latter estimate was subsequently increased to about $3,000,000.

In 1856 the manufacture of agricultural implements was begun at the armory, commencing with a cultivator tooth, which soon found a large and profitable market.  To this was afterwards added plows, mowing machines, wheel rakes, horse hoes, and a large variety of smaller tools.  For this department three large buildings were erected, and they employed at one time about 400 men.

In 1870 the firm added to their line of products the manufacture of sewing machines, a branch of the business that soon became as successful as those preceding it.  This step was taken partly because of the fluctuation in the manufacture of arms, much of the machinery being necessarily idle at times.  An excellent sewing machine was turned out and it found such favor that the sale reached about 35,000 in a single year.

In 1874 still another important industry was added to these works in the manufacture of typewriters, which have since become almost a household necessity.  While this branch of the business was being developed and improved, the firm became embarrassed through causes which we need not enter into here.  In 1878, to relieve the financial embarrassment of the corporation, its bonds for over $500,000 having five years to run, were issued to its creditors.  In 1882, in order to provide relief and get quicker returns for a part of the vast product of the factories, an arrangement was made whereby the sewing machine output was disposed of by the Remington Sewing Machine Agency, a company formed for the purpose of marketing all machines made at the works.  In August of the same year further arrangements to this end were made by which the typewriters were sold direct to the firm of Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, who continued to handle the product of that department until March, 1886, at which time they purchased the business and machinery and have ever since handled with great success both manufacture and sale of these machines, giving employment at the factory to about 400 men.  In 1883 a further arrangement was made with Lamberson, Furman & Co., of New York, to handle all the sporting arms.  All this served as a relief for a period; but unfortunately it was not permanent.  In March, 1886, the entire typewriter interest was sold, as above stated, and a part of the works leased in which to continue manufacture.  This action preceded the failure of the company only a few weeks, and in April A. N. Russell and Addison Brill, both prominent business men of Ilion, were appointed receivers of the company.  They immediately assumed charge of the works and took an inventory as soon as practicable.  Their report was ready in June.  Under order of the court they operated the works until 1888.  In October, 1887, they were given an order to sell the works at auction, and the first sale was made in February, 1888, the gun department being sold to Hartley & Graham, of New York, for $152,000.  This sale included the armory plant and al the goods in process of completion.  The sale was not approved by the court and a second took place in March, 1888, under which the same firm paid $200,000 for the same property.  This firm organized the Remington Arms Company, with Marcellus Hartley as president; Thomas G. Bennett, vice-president; W. W. Reynolds, secretary; Wilfred Hartley, treasurer.  About 500 hands are now employed in these works and new lines of manufacture have been added which have greatly increased the magnitude of the establishment, particularly the Remington bicycle, which is now occupying a prominent place among the various types of popular wheels.

The agricultural works were formerly a co-partnership carried on by Philo and Eliphalet Remington.  Charles Harter was made assignee of this establishment and it was sold at auction in the summer of 1887, passing afterwards by lease to the typewriter firm, which has recently become incorporated and purchased the property, while one department of the original agricultural works is now carried on by A. M. Ross & Co., who make a variety of implements and employ about 80 hands.  In the typewriter works about 600 hands are employed and nearly 20,000 machines are made annually.  These large industries are of great benefit to the village.

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Last Updated: 1/23/01

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