When Remington, under the aegis of the Freedom Group conglomerate of companies, gobbled up Marlin Firearms in 2007 for $41.7 million, then turned around and announced the long time factory in New Haven, Connecticut would be shuttered, many Marlin purists hung their head and muttered that the days of the classic company were over.
Well, four years later, with a solid plan underway, Remington says that the Marlin brand isn't going anywhere and the old designs are coming back-- better than ever.
Marlin history 101
The company that we know today as Marlin Firearms was founded in 1870, some 144 years ago, by Mr. John Mahlon Marlin. As such, Marlin rifles for generations carried "JM" roll marks on their barrels to designate this homage. Marlin had cut his teeth in Samuel Colt's factory making revolvers and pistols during the Civil War in Hartford, Connecticut. Then, he broke out on his own, starting a small shop in nearby New Haven.
The company specialized in lever action rifles, such as the M1891, which was updated as the 1893, then the Model 39, and still exists today as the Model 336. After Mr. Marlin died in the early 1900s, the company went from being family owned to being a corporation, which made machineguns for the Army during World War 1, merged with Hopkins and Allen, then in 1924 went out of business.
It was then that the Kenna family bought what was left of the company for $100 and, for all but a decade, a member of the Kenna family remained the president of the company for the next 83 years. During that time, Marlin registered hundreds of patents including on side ejection lever actions, Micro-Groove rifling, the T-900 Fire Control System, and others. They acquired H&R 1871 (Harrington and Richardson) in 2000, maker of most of the break-action shotguns and rifles in the country, and saw arch-rival Winchester largely go out of business.
Then in 2007 Remington bought out the company, and closed first the Gardner, MA factory (where H&R guns were made), then the historic North Haven plant in 2010.
The Darkest of days
According to the North Haven Register, of the 265 employees at the Marlin factory in that town the day it closed, only three took up Remington's offer to relocate to new jobs making the rifles they knew inside and out.
Manufacture of the Lever Action product line of sporting rifles was moved to Remington's long-standing plant in Ilion, New York. Two other product lines, Rimfire and Bolt Action Centerfire, were transferred to a new factory in Mayfield, Kentucky. Stock manufacturing went to a unit in Lexington, Missouri. The famous "JM" and "New Haven" marks fell from the rifles moving forward.
The 226,000-square-foot North Haven plant that was built in 1968 on 23.5 acres on Kenna Drive, since 2010 has sat empty. According to the North Haven Citizen, C. Cowles & Company, a metal stamping company that manufactures parts for U.S. and Japanese automobiles, will move into the old Marlin Firearms plant later this year. So even that historic city is moving on.
It seemed that for many, Marlin was over.
"Lots of folks found there was life after Marlin, unfortunately. It's the end of an era," said one former North Haven Marlin employee.
Rebirth from the ashes
The moves to Kentucky and New York were heavily subsided by local governments there. According to an article from the Courant, a $1.65 million grant from the Empire State Development Corp. and a New York State Community Development block grant of $750,000 helped fund the Ilion expansion while in Kentucky, the state Economic Development Finance Authority approved incentives up to $4.5 million over a 15-year period. Kentucky also provided a $250,000 grant. On top of this, Remington ponied up (pun intended) some $10 million in investment to get these facilities up to speed.
(Some current Marlin offerings)
This led to new rifles being introduced with the Marlin name on them (along with Remington's) while older, classic, (and expected) Marlin products disappeared. This is because machinery at New Haven, and a huge amount of tribal knowledge, was to a large degree untenable.
"The biggest known issue was that Marlin was in need of capital investment," said John Fink, senior product manager for Remington in an interview this month with Shot Business.
"We were dealing with equipment that was old-in some cases, more than 60 years old. Some of the equipment was in such bad shape that sheet-metal dams had been built around the machines to keep fluids from leaking out onto the floor."
Then when this equipment was moved to new facilities, and was used by employees new to it, these machines worked even less optimally. In essence, these guns were stuck in the 1940s. Modern dimensional drawings didn't even exist, with measurements and knowledge to make these guns passed down from retiring employees to newer apprentices over the generations.
"We have a great workforce in Ilion with gunmaking talent, but they had never built lever-action rifles before, so there was learning curve," said Fink.
And the curve is straightening out now with the new workers, now in their fifth year of first-hand knowledge and new, faithful and modern drawings made on modern CAD equipment by engineers who have devoted their lives to making guns, the new Marlin is growing into the old company's shoes.
For 2014, Marlin is reintroducing four suspended offerings, including two .338 Marlin Express rifles, the 1895 Cowboy, and the .444 Marlin.
(The new Model 336 CLE)
They are also gaining the confidence to make new limited edition guns, such as the 336CLE, which have all the appearance of some of New Haven's most elegant firearms.
In short, it looks like everything old is new again at Marlin, and they are hitting their stride.