Tuesday, May 3, 2016

John Marlin, Gunmaker

John Mahlon Marlin was born in Connecticut on May 6, 1836. He grew up in New England and entered the tool and die trade as a young man. During the Civil War, he started building guns, working at the Colt plant in Hartford. In 1870, he struck out on his own and founded Marlin Firearms Company in New Haven, Connecticut. He started off making single-shot brass framed derringers in .22 rimfire, and eventually added .32 and .38 caliber rimfire derringers to his product line. In 1875, Marlin added rifles to his product offerings, manufacturing the single-shot Ballard rifles (which had previously been made by others). A strategic business move was made in 1881, when Marlin introduced the Model 1881 lever-action repeating rifle. This was a well-built, accurate rifle, chambered for powerful hunting rounds like the .45-70 and .38-55. Now this was in the hey-day of the powerful Sharps single-shot rifles, but Marlin was making a big-bore high-powered rifle, and they were making it in a lever-actioned repeater (competing for the same market niche that Winchester had created with the Model 1876). The Marlin Model 1881 was well-received and firmly established Marlin in the levergun market.
A Marlin "trademark" was established a few years later when Marlin introduced the Model 1889, the first levergun to have a solid top and eject the empties out of the side of the receiver (the origin of the term "Marlin Safety"), instead of out the top (like Winchester leverguns). While 19th century levergunners weren't interested in mounting telescopic sights on their rifles, they did appreciate the fact that these new guns didn't toss hot brass into their faces (or down their shirt collars). The 1889 was chambered for the popular pistol rounds of the day, like .44-40, .38-40, .32-20 and .25-20. This rifle would eventually lead to the Model 1894, a design that Marlin continues to manufacture today (and is a favorite of Cowboy action shooters). Today known as Models 39 and 336 respectively, they are the oldest shoulder arm designs in the world still being produced. The lever action 22 repeater (now Model 39) even became the favorite of many exhibition shooters, including the great Annie Oakley.
Other major firearms companies were manufacturing semi-auto .22 caliber rifles, so it was inevitable that the Marlin Co. would eventually expand its design and manufacturing facilities to include them. In 1951, Marlin introduced the Model 50 semiauto, .22 caliber rifle, which would pave the way for many others that followed. Marlin Firearms went on to produce some of the most popular .22 caliber semi-autos in the world.

Volumes have been written about the evolution of Marlin Firearms, its association with other famous firearms inventors and manufacturers, and the innovative ideas that can be traced to the Marlin name. However, after all is said and done, the lever action rifles are most associated with the Marlin name and create one of the most vivid and romantic images in the history of firearms.

One of Marlin's more recent innovations is the patented "MicroGroove" rifling, designed for use with factory ammunition. There have been numerous claims of improved performance with factory ammunition. However, the performance of centerfire, handloads when using these barrels has been called into question.
Marlin has done quite well considering it was auctioned off for $100 to Mr Kenna in 1923. I’ve been happy with the few Marlin’s I’ve owned and believe them to be solid firearms.
Happy birthday John Marlin. He would be 180 this week.
Semper Paratus
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