Steyr was founded on April 16th 1864 by Josef Werndl as the Josef und Franz Werndl & Company Waffenfabrik und Sägemühle in Oberletten. It was from these humble beginnings that gave birth to the Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft and later more well known companies such as Steyr Werke, Steyr-Daimler (yes, that Daimler, the car company), and the well known modern firearms company Steyr Mannlicher. In 1867, Josef Werndl and his technical director Karl Holub proposed a design for a simple and reliable breechloader and were rewarded on July 28th with an order for 100,000 rifles. Later that year the military ordered another 150,000 rifles.
The enormous influx of orders overwhelmed Werndl’s manufacturing capability and forced him to expand the plant and hire hundreds of new employees. At peak production in the early 1870s Werndl employed more than 6,000 people and produced more than 8,000 rifles every week.
Business dropped in 1877, and in response the company began work developing a new bolt action repeater. The result was the now world famous Mannlicher repeating rifle developed in 1885. The 11mm Mannlicher 1886 sold well around the world and by 1889 the company had grown to over 10,000 employees which it needed to fulfill large military orders.
In April of 1889 company founder Josef Werndl passed away. Yet, his efforts at gaining contracts from foreign countries paid off after his death when the company obtained the manufacturing rights to the Schwarzlose machine gun, making the company the primary supplier for the machine gun throughtout Europe and beyond.
World War I brought an enormous amount of business to Steyr as factory employees swelled to over 15,000 in order to meet the needs of the European war machine. But after World War I, Steyr faced potential ruin from the Saint Germain peace treaty which prohibited arms production. The company branched out into automobile production in order to maintain economic viability.
World War II brought a similar boom and bust as Steyr began producing enormous quantities of military arms, in addition to tanks, planes, and various other military equipement and ammunition. At the conclusion of World War II, the company was in shambles between the damage it took from air raids, the further dismantling by the invading Soviets, and restrictions on arms production placed on the are by occupying Allied forces. It was not until 1950 that Steyr once again was able to begin manufacturing and selling hunting rifles. Once again, the Mannlicher-Schonauer hunting rifle was on the market.
After Austria reinstated their armed forces, Steyr once again began manufacturing military arms. Their first military rifle was the STG58, which was an FAL licensed from Beligian manufacturer Fabrique Nationale Herstal.
In 1987 Steyr-Daimler spun off their small arms manufacturing division as Steyr-Mannlicher AG. Steyr Mannlicher soon made another name for themselves with their groundbreaking bullpup rifle, the Steyr AUG chambered in 5.56 NATO. Later they enjoyed even more success with their SSG line of sniper rifles.
With the decline of hunting among European sportsmen, Steyr sought to develop a line of match grade target air rifles. Late in 1987 after a scant few months of R&D, Steyr released the LG87 Match Air Rifle. It sold fairly well, but it wasn’t until the development of the LP1 Match Air Pistol that Steyr really found their stride.
Faced with increased demand for their weapons, Steyr relocated to a modern facility where they remain today in Mannlicherstraße. In January 1994 Steyr acquired a majority shareholder stake in Suhler Jagd und Sportwaffen. Later that year in July their manufacturing facilites were awarded the ISO 9001 Quality Certificate.
Not one to abandon existing thriving markets, Steyr continued their development of fine hunting rifles with their SBS96 line. The SBS (safe bolt system) line of rifles utilize front locking lugs, as opposed to the traditional Mannlicher style rear locking bolt lugs. The lineup of SBS96 rifles was eventually expanded to include the ProHunter, the Forester, and the Scout model, all of which were designed with the American hunting market in mind.
Steyr provoked controversy in 2005 when it sought approval from the Austrian government to sell 400 .50 caliber rifles to the Iranian government, ostensibly so that they could use them for combating smugglers. The United States and United Kingdom raised strenuous objections, claiming that the rifles could find their way into the hand of Iraqi insurgents who the US and UK coalition forces were currently battling. Nevertheless, the Austrian government approved the transaction. Just over a month later, American forces claimed that the rifles had been used in the shooting deaths of soldiers stationed there. Steyr denied the claim, stating that they had seen no evidence that their rifles had been used.