John M. Marlin was born in Connecticut in 1836. He apprenticed as a tool and die maker and worked at the Colt Manufacturing plant during the Civil War. In 1870, at age 34, Marlin started his own gun manufacturing shop in New Haven, Connecticut. His first firearms were single-shot derringers in .22, .30, .32 and .41 calibers. He named them “Ok,” “Never Miss” and the “Victor.”
About 16,000 of these single-shot derringers were made. In the book, Marlin Firearms: A History of the Guns and The Company That Made Them written by William S. Brophy, Frank Kenna, the president of Marlin Firearms at the time wrote, “His products were tiny single-shot pistols for ladies to carry in their purses during the unsettled post-Civil War years.” Between 1870 and 1887, Marlin expanded his line of firearms to include single-action revolvers. There were six models developed.
The first Marlin lever-action rifle, called the Model 1881, was made in 1881 . According to the 2008 Standard Catalog of Firearms, 18th edition, the Model 1881 “has always been regarded as a high quality rifle.” The Model 1881 could handle large calibers such as the .32-40, .38-55, .40-60, .45-70 and .45-85.
In 1889, Marlin developed the first side-ejection, solid-top receiver lever-action rifle. Annie Oakley was such a fan of the Marlin Model 1889 that Marlin custom-made one of the lever-action repeaters just for her.
Marlin’s other great achievements were the development of the Model 1891 and the Model 1893. The Marlin Model 1891 was the first repeating rifle able to fire the .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 Long Rifle. The Model 1892 was Marlin’s first rifle designed to accept smokeless powder cartridges. Marlin still sells these models today.
The Model 1891 is now called the Model 39 and the Model 1893 is now the Model 336. Marlin’s website states, “they are the oldest shoulder arm designs in the world still being produced.”
John M. Marlin passed away in 1901, and his sons took over the business. In 1915, a New York-based company purchased Marlin and renamed it the Marlin Rockwell Corporation. During WWI, the company made the Marlin machine gun, a modification of the Browning machine gun.
Marlin’s website says, “a tank model was produced for some of the first tanks used in warfare.” The newly named Marlin Rockwell Corporation became one of the of the biggest machine gun makers in the world for the United States and its allies during the war.
In 1922, the company filed for bankruptcy and went into foreclosure. Two years later, the Marlin Rockwell Corporation was put up for auction. Frank Kenna, a lawyer, bought the company for $100. Kenna also acquired the debt and mortgage of the company. Kenna renamed the company Marlin Firearms Corporation, which stayed in the Kenna family for 84 years until Remington purchased Marlin in 2008.
Remington’s website comments on the acquisition of the Marlin Firearms Corporation:
“For well over a century, these classics have been synonymous with dependability, flawless performance and accuracy, at a reasonable price. The simple, fast actions are known far and wide for uncompromising reliability, and their ability to stand up under the wide range of conditions.”
In 2008, Marlin produced its 30 millionth lever-action rifle. The commemorative Model 1895CB was donated to the NRA at the 2008 SHOT show.
The Kenna family continued John M. Marlin’s success with developments of the Micro-Groove Rifling System in 1953 and in 2004 the T-900 Fire Control System.
Today, Marlin continues to develop high quality firearms.
Do you have a Marlin…whether current or historic? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.
This article originally published on September 22, 2010.