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Rise And Fall Of The Whitney Wolverine

The design of the Whitney Wolverine may need some thinking it’s a bit out of place amongst the other collectible and antique firearms that often grace Rock Island Public sale Company’s catalogs and articles. After all, this isn’t any antique, Western, or navy arm made with steel and wooden! It appears prefer it would be extra at home with Buck Rodgers, the crew of “Misplaced in Area,” or in the pages of an old “Pace Carter” or “Flash Gordon” comic book. Yes, the Wolverine owes a lot of its design, technique of manufacture, and untimely demise to the era wherein it found itself birthed. That submit-WWII period was what the new York Times and many others dubbed, “The Atomic Age.”

In that age was a man named Robert “Bob” L. Hillberg. Bob had an curiosity in firearms from an early age, an curiosity he credit largely to his outdoorsman father and his gift of a Browning Auto-5 20 gauge shotgun to the highschool junior that endured numerous disassembling and reassembling in his Minneapolis, Minnesota boyhood house. By the years he bought more firearms, grew to become familiar with mechanical drawing due to his father’s accomplishments as an artist and draftsman, and obtained early employment in machine operation for big local firms resembling Ford, Minneapolis Honeywell, some native flour mills, and others. With this basic experience, Bob began constructing some firearm accessories and still had a ardour for the internal workings of a firearm. It was all the time a pastime for him, even after he graduated high school and left for the University of Minnesota’s School of Mines as an pupil of mining engineering.

While attending school his profession as an engineer, machinist, and gun designer encountered an unexpected and nice opportunity. In 1936-37 Bob had designed and developed a brand new submachine gun that utilized the Colt .38 Super and truly built a working model of it on the U.S. Naval Air Station, Wold-Chamberlain Discipline, Minneapolis where his duties as a reserve member gave him entry to the machine store. Effectively, in 1938 summer vacation rolled round and with his working prototype and drawings in hand, Bob ventured as much as Connecticut to sell the gun to Colt. The legendary manufacturer, already manufacturing Thompsons (which had been promoting poorly), and with no war occurring, didn’t have a lot need for a new SMG design for the time being, but they immediately acknowledged Bob’s capacity and offered him a position.

Snatching this alternative of a lifetime by the tail, Bob accepted and started working in many varied positions for Colt leading to a wide number of expertise and training in many alternative areas of firearms manufacture. Clearly, this can be an enormous benefit for the younger designer as his profession developed. Two years later, in 1940, Hillberg would turn that expertise with Colt right into a place in the analysis engineering department at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company. In his time there he developed a new 20mm aircraft cannon and began work at house on a personal aspect challenge of a brand new military carbine to enter into the U.S. government’s competitors for simply such a rifle.

“Reciprocating barrel carbine designed by Bob Hillberg whereas working at the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Corp. during World Battle II. It was never introduced into production.” – Taglienti, p. 17

Two years later, and taking the designs for the cannon and the carbine with him, Hillberg left for the Ordnance Department of Bell Aircraft, returning him again to his aspiration of working with firearms. stone island shadow project shirt Now he was a challenge engineer and was as much as his eyeballs in firearms concepts and projects, which author Antonio J. Taglienti, who penned the authoritative work on Hillberg & his Wolverine, lists as: “Boeing B-17 turrets, .50 cal machine gun feeding programs, gun mounts, boosters, gun sight techniques, bomb racks, rocket releases, and a 20 mm steady belt feed mechanism for submarines and ant-aircraft guns.” Hillberg even had a prototype of his carbine made and pursuits were piqued in both Canada and Russia, however WWII ended before any further headway might be made. In reality, Bell closed their Ordnance Division after the struggle and Hillberg went to work for Republic Aviation once more making the feed techniques, gun mounts, and bomb racks that he had familiarized himself with at Bell.

Hillberg’s employment at Republic bears special point out because though he was once more working within the aviation sphere, his heart still remained true to firearms engineering. At his house, Hillberg realized that the three hottest cartridges at the moment the .22LR, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP had been all .006 inch different in general length. Mixed with his ardour for small arms, Hillberg set about designing a single pistol utilizing replaceable barrels and magazines that would be able to firing the three distinct cartridges. His new compact pistol was known as the “Hillberg Tri-Matic” and it used many characteristics revered by Hillberg: simplicity, effectivity, simple assembly/disassembly, and low cost of manufacture. These qualities made Hillberg a superb designer favored by his employers, however they also would be his calling cards for a lot of his designs, together with the Whitney pistol.

Hillberg’s 1949 drawing of the Hillberg TRI-MATIC pistol from p.19 of the Taglienti e-book.
It wouldn’t take lengthy for the man with firearms design in his blood to return to that industry and in 1951, Hillberg went to work for prime Customary with the intention of constructing the Tri-Matic. Nonetheless, High Standard stored him busy with projects starting from gas operated sporting shotguns, to the army purposes corresponding to a .308 NATO tank machine gun and the U.S. military’s brief flirtation with changing the M1911-A1 with a sidearms capable of firing a 9mm Parabellum utilizing a delayed blowback action. In his growth of these army arms, he turned conversant in a machining company referred to as Bellmore-John Instrument Company, a a lot smaller group than the established Excessive Commonplace, but one that had a wonderful repute. Long story short, working for BJT would give Hillberg way more control over his own route, so he approached the corporate and began working for them in 1954.

Already having a need to design and make a new .22 caliber pistol, Hillberg’s first order of business after this rent was to start placing pen to paper and making his very long time ideas a actuality. Figuring out all the kinks took Bob into 1955, when the primary prototype of the Whitney pistol (nonetheless dubbed a Tri-matic at that point) was made at the BJT facility fully by hand, it functioned flawlessly and was given the serial no 1. Hillberg now had full drawings and a functioning prototype with a sleek, house-age look. It was time to make some money for all his hard work and what would occur next would decide the fate of the corporate and the pistol.

Picture of Hillberg’s patent from p.A hundred of Taglienti’s book
BJT being a small firm, Hillberg needed to both sell the gun outright to a longtime producer or “else have it produced and marketed by one of the main gun corporations on a royalty foundation” according to Taglienti. In any case, BJT was just a machinist store. They made dies, instruments, and patterns. They didn’t have the production facility, employees, advertising group, etc. essential to successfully bring a brand new sporting pistol to the American public. Despite these setbacks, BJT decided to supply the new pistol themselves, which meant they had been going to wish plenty of capital to construct a new manufacturing facility, hire new expert employees, equipment bought, and marketing to be executed. The 2 men had loads of expertise with the engineering portion of firearms, but had been considerably helpless when it got here to gross sales and marketing.

To that finish, Hillberg and Howard Johnson, execs at BJT, had been referred by a friend to see one Mr. Jacques Galef, a nationally identified firearms distributor who was able to assist stated buddy when he was in a jam. Galef was immediately impressed with the pistol and much more impressed with its performance at a local firing vary the place the gun was fired by Hillberg so rapidly that Galef swore it was the quickest firing pistol he’d ever seen! By no means mind that Hillberg could make most any semi-auto hearth that rapidly and tried to tell his potential client simply that, Galef was gained over. He would market the gun and placed an order for 10,000 pistols.

One of many Whitney pistols to be sold at Rock Island Auction Firm’s 2014 July Regional Public sale in Lot 2384.

Hillberg and Johnson left the demonstration in New York Metropolis as elated as any two men must be who have simply accomplished a serious step toward success. Soon thereafter, April 1955 to be specific, a contract was drawn up and agreed to by both parties. In it Galef agreed to buy 10,000 pistols as initially provided and to furthermore buy no less than 10,000 in every subsequent calendar yr. For his assured repeat business, Galef would maintain exclusive distributorship over the pistol. The males on the newly formed Hillson Firearms (named by combining HILLberg & JohnSON) had additionally decided a market strategy. Hillson Firearms was intended to manufacture an entire line of sporting arms using this little .22 pistol to get their foot within the door of the firearms trade. That in thoughts, they priced their pistol for wholesale at $sixteen.53/piece. Of their minds, it would realize minimal profit in flip for getting their name on the market at a price attractive to firearms fans. Within the authoritative ebook, “The Whitney Wolverine,” Taglienti states, “It seems somewhat amazing in retrospect, that Johnson and Hillberg felt they could produce a pistol and wholesale it to the distributor for $16.Fifty three every, and realize a reasonable profit from this, even contemplating the relative value of 1955 dollars. Nevertheless, their value research had proven this to be completely attainable, and they eagerly entered into the agreement.”

Eli Whitney
After securing their financing at the primary National Bank and Belief Co. of latest Haven with their signed letter from Galef, Hillson Firearms started not solely selecting a location for what was to be their factory, but also began contemplating a name change. Those two birds have been to be taken with a single stone, after they renamed Hillson Firearms to Whitney Firearms, Inc.impressed by historic inventor Eli Whitney. Not solely is his name well-known to high school children in every single place for his invention of the cotton gin, but the Whitney name is very well known to firearms collectors thanks to Whitney’s manufacture of U.S. Mannequin 1785 muskets (amongst others) at the flip of the century as well as being the innovator behind the interchangeability of gun parts. It didn’t harm that the identify was public property, enjoyed rich associations with American historical past and invention, and was already revered domestically. To Hillberg, there was also the added symbolism of Eli Whitney’s innovation combined with his desire to supply top quality guns at a low value, while remaining simply serviceable. The upstart company with its new moniker even sought to obtain the land that the previous Whitney Armory had occupied. However, that land was now owned by the brand new Haven Water Firm, who had no desire to promote. A new property was shortly discovered within a mile, but the situation was technically in neighboring North Haven, Connecticut and not the manufacturing center of American firearms, New Haven. It mattered little. The corporate would still list New Haven on most of its materials and even on the side of the pistols. If only the issues to return had been as simple to resolve.

In 1956, manufacturing began slowly, because it does for many manufacturers until they get their toes wet. The excellent news was that it was ever rising and income were anticipated to be seen quickly. Only when summer time rolled around, so did the grim realization that by promoting the pistols at $sixteen.Fifty three per unit, they had been lucky to break even. They modified a number of issues to cut prices, but the only factor that could have truly saved the fledgling gun maker would have been a +$three.00/unit change to their contract with Galef – not exactly one thing a savvy businessman would comply with. That summer season the manufacturing unit was pumping out around 330 guns per week and with each one, the corporate was shedding money.

The second Whitney Wolverine in RIAC’s July 2014 Regional Firearms Auction showing in Lot 2430
The issue with selling on a budget and making marginal revenue is that one’s success is predicated on sheer quantity. The hopes are to supplant the mark up with the sheer number of gadgets sold, even if every one earns a minimal quantity. Undercutting the competition is one thing, promoting for a bargain is another. The scenario turned much more dire when Galef despatched word for the company to hold again on their deliveries to him. He already had a warehouse full and so they weren’t exactly promoting as well as anybody had hoped they would. Taglienti describes it succinctly when he writes, “This was a devastating blow to Whitney. They were locked into Galef by the unique distributorship contract and weren’t permitted to sell to anybody else. But now Galef did not want anymore!” Whitney wanted to expand their sales and rapidly or they’d grow to be bankrupt extra shortly than their little pistol may shoot.

Stone Island Hat Blue

Finding new prospects seemed promising at first with interest coming in from the West Coast and enormous chains equivalent to Sears and Montgomery Ward. Any new contracts would’ve paid a royalty to Galef and saved the company from going beneath, however the deal fell via. They even had a proposal to sell them in Mexico, but poor gross sales and new import legal guidelines squashed the deal. They even tried to redesign the gun, changing the very cosmetics which gave the Whitney its appeal. However, not eager to danger the headache and fund drain of a legal battle with Galef the pair merely determined to sell what they may to repay their debts. They sold to a Charles E. Lowe Sr. in 1957, a fellow machinist who owned a shop in neighboring Newington, Connecticut, and who was made absolutely aware of the current firm’s situation. Hillberg and Johnson walked away from the business they’d constructed after constructing only 10,793 pistols of which 10,360 were delivered to J.F. Galef & Son. It might have been a crushing second for the lifelong small arms designer who was on the verge of seeing his desires come true.

Lowe changed the title from Whitney Firearms, Inc. to Whitney Firearms Co. and was keen on resuming production of the pistol, the design now not being certain by agreements. Production began gradual, but was slowly gaining momentum as ads began showing in a few of the nations most effectively-recognized firearms magazines.

Nevertheless, in February of 1958, J.L. Galef & Son introduced go well with to the new company claiming breech of contract. Whitney claimed they had been in no violation: not solely had the prior agreement been satisfied with the delivery of 10,000 pistols, however they weren’t even the same business. They claimed that Lowe had not bought the enterprise, but had personally bought solely the physical property and patents and then leased those to the new firm. The lawsuit threatened to go on for some time and gross sales were gradual for the new company and its owner. Besides, if Galef won the go well with, all of the profits from the pistols piling up within the Whitney warehouse would be awarded to him. Production stopped. The case was finally settled, but all of the excitement and power surrounding the pistol had vanished. Instead of selecting up manufacture once more, the brand new Whitney Firearms Co. determined to liquidate and bought the remaining 1,a hundred pistols wholesale to miscellaneous distributors. It was the top of a journey as soon as as promising and brilliant as a taking pictures star, however that light just as rapidly.

Why Did It Fail
There are many supposed causes the pistol fell wanting success. Obviously the binding agreement with Galef was an enormous contributing issue for a number of reasons: nonadjustable price, little to no profit, and a factor not yet mentioned was that Galef was solely promoting them through the mail (a legal and common practice at Stone Island Coats the moment). Whitney had expected to see their guns in the windows and circumstances of firearms and sporting items stores across the nation, but the younger producer had no thought of Galef’s mail order practice until they started receiving their guarantee cards again from their patrons. Whitney had zero input or information on how Galef was going to conduct sales and advertising and marketing of the pistol.

Another subject could have been the lack of a consistent name. Most guns, or merchandise generally, go by one name throughout their lifespan. The Whitney pistol went by many. It began as a product by Hillson Firearms and was at the moment nonetheless identified because the Tri-Matic, though the design of the original Tri-Matic and the Whitney pistol had little in widespread and the unique was only ever built as a prototype. When the deal was first struck with Galef, the corporate still bore the Hillson name and briefly an ad appeared for the Hillson-Imperial. Nevermind that the Hillson title by no means appeared on one of many Whitney pistols, it is likely the advertising efforts of somebody at Galef.

If you happen to recall from earlier, Galef was extraordinarily impressed at the pistol’s initial demonstration. So impressed, he exclaimed that, “it shoots like lightning!” He all but insisted it ought to be referred to as the Lightning, so this name too appeared in promoting placed by Galef. The identify was by no means placed on any of the pistols. At long final the identify “Wolverine” was given to the little plinker, but there isn’t any single purpose as to why. Some once more give the origin’s credit score to Galef and him wanting the pistol to be associated with wild animals and the outdoors, issues that had been generally used of their advertising and marketing. Alliteration is rarely mentioned as a reason for the title “Wolverine,” but it is arduous to imagine it had no bearing on the choice. The other possibility is that because Bob Hillberg himself was a college football fan, particularly that of the university of Michigan Wolverines, he chose the identify in honor of his beloved crew. It can be a brief-lived tribute as a enterprise solely miles away from the unique Whitney plant, the Lyman Gunsight Company, had already used the title for one in all their scopes. The house owners being buddies, Whitney dropped the identify to preserve the friendship and keep away from legal battles.

Word the designation because the “Lightning Mannequin” and the J.L Galef name in the bottom proper.
Right here designated as the “Whitney Wolverine” it still lists J. L Galef because the unique distributor.

The third reason can perhaps be extra typically summed up as, “the market.” The Whitney pistol had some stiff competition from any variety of sources:

– Different extra established plinking pistols may very well be obtained at the same value or cheaper than the Whitney
– Other handguns have been carried in inventory and did not need to be ordered just like the Whitney
– A boom of military surplus rifles and pistols had been obtainable on a budget, giving patrons more selection and bang for their buck.

It also had a mode that the market might not have been able to help and an aluminum body that will have felt “cheap” and mild to a market accustomed to heavy steel which was associated with durability and high quality.

In the end, the gun and the company tied to it would flounder after lower than three full years of on once more off again production, robbing Hillberg of his a lot deserved success. Actually, much of his early work would point out the man was to obtain no accolades in stone island shadow project shirt any respect! His work on several prototypes all seemed to overlook going to full production. The weapons that he developed designed for insurgencies, such because the Winchester Liberator shotgun, noticed no real lifespan and one other compact weapon, the Colt Defender Mark I, an 8 barreled, 20 ga. shotgun designed for regulation enforcement, was introduced in the course of the nationwide recession and put out to pasture in 1971. Trying once more with the COP 357 Derringer, a again-up break action pistol for legislation enforcement, Hillberg’s design once more bit the mud as it was too bulky and had a heavy double motion trigger pull (a design function that Hillberg thought of important for simplicity in use). Thankfully his work with numerous firearms and aeronautic firms all through the years had earned him many patents corresponding to several pistols, shotgun components, safeties, early gas operated shotguns, barrels, grips, and what seems to be a folding shotgun inventory extraordinarily just like that popularized by the Franchi SPAS-12.

Patent diagram for the Winchester “Liberator” shotgun
Hillberg is a completely good engineering thoughts that deserves rather more recognition than he receives. His was a labor of love that never actually noticed the success that he desired and some say deserved. Robert L. Hillberg handed away on August 12, 2012 at the age of ninety four, but not before he got to see his Wolverine design reborn in 2005 from black polymer courtesy of the Olympic Arms Firm. To see the rekindled curiosity in his outdated pet project could be a source of pleasure for any engineer or designer.

Taglienti, Antonio J. The Whitney Wolverine: .22 Caliber Semi-automatic Pistol. Woonsocket, RI: Mowbray, 2008.

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