The following information comes from Mauser Rifles and Pistols by W. H. B. Smith. Mauser Rifles and Pistols is also available to purchase in print.
The following history is the result of original research and has not heretofore appeared in English except as noted.
This is the fantastic story of an application of the elementary turning door-bolt which made military history. It is the story of how the German Nicholas Dreyse recognized and utilized the idea of applying the push-and-turn-down principle of the common door-securing bolt to lock a cartridge in the firing chamber of a rifle. So secure was this new lock, that an entirely new form of military rifle was evolved which literally changed the face of war.
It is the story of how two lowly German gunsmiths, Paul and Wilhelm Mauser, seized upon and perfected the elementary application of Dreyse and used it in conjunction with a newly developed metallic cartridge to produce the first truly successful German rifle.
From that point on the simple story of the door-bolt rifle enters the ramification of world history. From his first crude design, Paul Mauser evolved the bolt action magazine rifle bearing his name. This rifle was to remain the standard arm of the German forces through two World Wars and was to become the standard military arm of practically all the smaller nations of the World, while its modifications were to be adopted by most of the remaining nations.
Paul Mauser devoted his entire adult life to the further development and evolution of military arms in the interests of his Fatherland. The effect those weapons have had on history is much too great to be assessed in a work of this nature. But there is no corner of the globe in which power on the one hand and violent death on the other has not followed in the footsteps of the Mauser salesman. The sale of sporting Mausers has always been purely incidental, they were merely modified military arms.
Peter Paul Mauser was born on the 27th of June in the year 1838 in the little town of Oberndorf on the banks of the beautiful German river Neckar. Peter Paul was the youngest of the thirteen children Merira Agatha Heim Mauser bore to Andreas Mauser of Sondheim.
Andreas Mauser himself was a master gunsmith in the Government Firearms Factory housed in the former Augustine Cloister at Oberndorf. This factory was originally established by King Frederick I by a Cabinet Decree of July 31, 1811. Originally located partly at Ludwigsburg and partly in Christophsthal, it was transferred to Oberndorf because of the fine facilities available there. The old Augustine Cloister, built from 1775 to 1788, had been vacated by virtue of the secularization in the year 1806; and in accordance with the history of such institutions from the earliest times, was found to be so well constructed and so ideally situated that its conversion to an arms factory proved to be a very logical move. It is indeed a strange coincidence that even in England, as far back as the year 1539, a convent which had stood since 1293 was taken over by Henry VIII; and under the name of “The Minories” became outstanding in the gun manufacturing trade in England. Throughout the course of recorded history men and women of peace have selected beautiful sites and constructed fine buildings only to have them eventually seized and turned to factories for war.
Peter Paul, to give him his full name, his next older brother Wilhelm, as well as five of the older sons, were trained by their father in the line of his interest. When he was only 12 Paul was already busy at the gunsmith’s work bench. Throughout all the days of his youth, his family was financially poor and his meager earnings helped support the large Mauser family. In 1852 when Peter Paul was graduated from high school, his future life work was already decided. He joined his father and brothers in the Government Firearms Factory and soon attracted attention by his unusual ability to develop new methods of work, new short cuts in manufacturing processes, and specialized tools which enabled him to produce faster and better than his older bench mates.
Europe was then, even as now, a Continent seething with discontent, fear and suspicion, and Germany employed a rigid system of compulsory military service. In 1859 Peter Paul was called up for military duty.
Since military systems throughout the world have always been noted for their prodigal waste of talent and ability, it is not surprising that Germany assigned Peter Paul, brilliant small arms mechanic, to duty as an artilleryman at the arsenal at Ludwigsburg. In later years Peter Paul himself credited his study of the models he saw at Ludwigsburg, particularly of the new but highly imperfect breech loaders, with starting him on the development of rifles which brought fame and fortune to him and military might of ephemeral quality to his country. He lived to see his Germany rise in military might; he was fortunate enough to die before its star fell in disastrous defeat.
By December of 1859, Peter Paul had so impressed his immediate superiors that he was placed on inactive status and assigned to the Royal Firearms Factory at Oberndorf. Time had made inroads into the Mauser family. Father Andreas had died. Josef and Heinrich, the two oldest brothers, had married and had their own families to think about. Another brother Franz, had emigrated to America where he was to become an employee of the Remington organization, one of the great pioneers of American firearms.
And so it was that Peter Paul, faced with the desire to turn his creative energy to practical purposes that he might earn a better livelihood for himself and for his family, approached his brother Wilhelm, who was two years his senior, and asked him to work with him on the creation of a new gun in the evening hours after their day’s work in the factory was done. Then, as in later years, the factory was a hive of industry. The hours were long, the labor was gruelling. Only a person with dogged courage, stamina and determination could summon up enough energy at the end of a hard days work there to put in long hours of home work, whatever the potential return. The energy, will and drive of Peter Paul Mauser were elements in his success throughout the entire course of his life. Whatever one may feel about the directions his boundless energy took, there can be no argument about its drive and intensity.
As the older of the two brothers, Wilhelm automatically assumed his father’s place as negotiator in the contacts and dealings the Mauser brothers had with the factory. From the first his health was delicate and this, together with a natural ability as a salesman, spurred him on to take active charge of the presentation of their interests, while Peter Paul did most of the actual experimental, technical and development work.
The experiences of Peter Paul while in the artillery influenced his thought to such an extent that his first invention was a small breech loading cannon and a special steel projectile of unusual design for it. While he credited Wilhelm with part of the collaboration on the cannon itself, Peter Paul alone was the developer of the ammunition. Throughout his life he claimed to be the sole creator of the ammunition used and developed for Mauser weapons all over the world. This fact is of great significance in the development of firearms. The ability to develop not only the mechanical principles of a weapon but also the ballistically correct ammunition for the mechanical principles involved is a tremendous factor in the successful production of firearms.
While this breech loading cannon was of general interest and was later preserved at the Royal Army Museum at Stüttgart, the difficulties of producing it with any hope of profit very soon taught the brothers a much needed lesson. Since their finances were limited, their activities must needs be funneled into channels where large sums of money were not involved in experimentation, initial production and selling.
Both brothers of course were thoroughly familiar with the Dreyse Needle Gun then in German military use, and after its outstanding military success at Alsen in 1864, they turned their combined efforts to ways to improve the locking and functioning of this new military arm, which was based on the locking principle of the elementary turning door-bolt.
For a time there was a dangerous rift in the friendly and fraternal relations of Wilhelm and Peter Paul, and for several years they went their separate ways. Finally Peter Paul succeeded in creating a turning-bolt lock which by a simple cam action during opening and closing of the breech mechanism would cock the mainspring.
Wilhelm was so impressed with this development that he again entered into business relations with his younger brother, and he was so successful and so forceful in presenting this new development to the military authorities that the government granted the two brothers several hundred florins with which to purchase machinery for further development work. The brothers later were able to repay this loan, but without it they could never have completed the experimental work so essential to the development of the arm on which they were engaged.
The first Mauser developments were connected with rifles using the needle principle, in which the needle at the forward end of the striker was driven forward through the powder charge to hit and discharge the percussion or priming charge at the base of the bullet. Soon, however, they produced an advanced form of arm using a needle-percussion action.
The army of their native Württemberg had but recently been equipped with Minié Rifles; and as the investment had already been made in those arms, that government was no longer interested in a new rifle, even though it was an admittedly superior design. The financial commitment was too great to warrant a changeover.
The brothers next turned to the Royal Prussian Ambassador at Stüttgart with their new arm. That official, impressed by and glorying in the Prussian successes in battle with the Dreyse Needle Gun, decided arbitrarily that the Dreyse was so excellent that no change could even be considered.
Undaunted, the brothers next approached the Austrian Ambassador, who was considerably more receptive. He forwarded their new rifle to Vienna for tests, and that action started a new chain of events in the lives of the Mauser brothers.
Few arms enthusiasts know that the first Mauser rifle patent was taken out in the United States. That rather strange development was a direct outgrowth of their initial presentation of the new weapon to the Austrian Ambassador.
At that period many countries in Europe and the Orient were considering arming with the then famous American Remington rolling-block rifles. That was the heydey of breech loading rifle development in the United States. Peabody had developed a fallingblock breech loader which was being used, modified or adapted in great numbers throughout Europe; the Winchester repeater was making itself felt as a force in Turkish military life; and from Norway to Egypt, from Spain to Turkey, and even in far away South America and China the Remington rolling-block was being considered for military service.
Representatives of American firearm manufacturers were persona grata in all corners of the world. It is not strange then that Mr. Charles Norris of the Remington Company should be calling on the Austrian Minister of War at Vienna. Austria had but recently changed over to the Wänzl rifle and the manufacture was in such an advanced stage that, like Württemburg, Austria could not afford to bypass the Wänzl even in the face of an admittedly superior design. It was at the War Ministry that Norris first saw the Mauser rifle.
The Austrian War Minister was quite frank with Norris in pointing out to him that only the financial commitments already involved in the Wänzl changeover prevented Austria from adopting this new German design. Norris, a true Connecticut Yankee of story-book type, at once grasped the possibilities of a fine business opportunity at practically no cost or risk. The French assured him they would be interested in a system to convert the Chassepot to a metallic cartridge rifle; and Norris travelled to Oberndorf with the sole idea of tieing the Mausers up in a contract which would give him control of a Chassepot conversion. His classic contract and his own story will be found at the close of this chapter.
Norris hired the Mausers to go to Lüttich in Belgium, then the seat of firearms design in Europe, where all facilities necessary for further development would be readily accessible, to perfect the design for him. Norris also stipulated that patents should be taken out in his name and that the Mauser brothers were to receive a royalty on the proceeds of weapons sold. Designers and inventors from the earliest of times have been subject to this type of promotional contracts, which very seldom work in actual practice. The rifle, called the “Mauser-Norris” was July patented in the names of Norris and of the two brothers in the United States. The Remington firm, justifiably incensed at the action of their European representative, were sold an interest in the Mauser contract by Norris. They failed to push the new bolt action rifle, however.
At that time, the Royal Firearms Factory at Oberndorf, being in the process of reconverting from the Minié muzzle-loading rifle to the more successful breech-loading needle gun, was forced to lay off a great number of workmen, including the Mauser brothers. And so it was that early in 1867 the Mausers, glad of any work which would pay their expenses, moved to Lüttich in Belgium. For two years Peter Paul and Wilhelm worked incessantly at further developing their rifle. Their stay was mentally stimulating at least, as it brought them in contact with many of the outstanding experts and manufacturing geniuses in the European armament industry then situated in Lüttich.
By the Fall of 1869, Norris failing to meet his obligations and provide financial support to the Mauser brothers, the two were compelled to return to their family home at Oberndorf where they set up to manufacture rifles in a small workshop in the home of Peter Paul’s father-in-law.
Before leaving Lüttich they had insisted that Norris submit their rifle to the Royal Prussian School of Riflemanship. The results of the test there were so impressive that Wilhelm was invited to the Arsenal at Spandau. The Institute at Spandau later produced the Royal Rifle Testing Commission, a body to which Paul Mauser submitted all his rifle designs from that period on. Throughout the course of his life he was always proud, in the way that only a German militarist could be, of his connection through the years with the top rifle authorities of Prussia. What part Peter Paul himself played in later years in the planned system of distribution of his arms as instruments for spreading German thought and military policy throughout the world, it is difficult indeed to say. But the record does show that all his efforts and all his abilities were harnessed to the one idea of developing standardized equipment and munitions.
The second of December 1871 was a red letter day in the lives of the brothers Mauser. It was on that day that their rifle was adopted as the first official German service metallic cartridge rifle, even though the Testing Commission required a number of changes in the basic design, particularly in the safety device.
Peter Paul, enthralled at the prospect of the honor of having his rifle adopted, worked day and night to perfect a new safety lock; and on the 14th day of February 1872 submitted two systems to Spandau for their selection. Like practically every other mechanical development of Peter Paul Mauser, this safety was so fundamentally correct that it was never possible to do more than refine it. Even today it is a characteristic feature of the finest Mauser rifles.
While the genesis of the turning-bolt action lock is usually credited to Dreyse, and the overall form of that first Mauser rifle is often thought to resemble closely that of the French Chassepot, the truly revolutionary features in the design are strictly those of Peter Paul Mauser.
Out of that elementary house door-bolt he produced a unit which was self-cocking, had a distinctive bolt head, utilized an elastic extractor, incorporated an effective ejector, and embodied the famous cam operation for giving “primary extraction” to loosen swollen cartridge cases, without which a truly successful military rifle could not function.
Thus this first rifle, officially listed as the “Model 71”, was really not produced until 1872.
The Prussian Army promptly supplied a substantial order and the brothers Mauser set up a temporary workshop in a little building in Oberndorf. That first plant employed 50 people on its opening, utilized several special machines developed by Paul Mauser, and was powered by two movable steam engines. Soon the plant grew to utilize the energies of 100 workers.
By now the brothers knew that success was within their grasp and they unhesitatingly committed themselves to the erection of a new plant of their own on the height of Oberndorf, the plant later known as the “Oberes Work”. In the summer of 1872 they laid the foundation stone of this new plant, and day by day in proud anticipation they watched it grow.
Again an ill wind blew, the kind of wind that blows down and destroys weaker men than the brothers Mauser. Hardly had the building been completed on the heights then a great fire occurred; and on the 20th of August 1873, the building was badly gutted by fire.
With truly indomitable will and courage, they passed off the severe blow and turned their energies to refitting the factory. Just eight weeks from the day of the fire the plant was able to resume operations.
By now the High Command of the Württemberg army was convinced not only of the quality of the rifle but also of the ability and stamina of the Mauser brothers. They therefore offered a contract for approximately 100 thousand rifles and carbines of the Model 71 to outfit their army. By this time the pattern of German military thought with its long term view of ultimate world power was taking form. The new German Confederation was shaping and the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm and later of Adolph Hitler was beginning the climb to the military heights which was to produce two generations of World chaos. The Württemberg Government offered the Mauser brothers the Government Firearms Factory for a price of 200 thousand florins. Financing this project, a gigantic one from the standpoint of the Mauser brothers, was simplified by the government-arranged participation of a banking concern which could offer the necessary financial guarantees to the government.
And thus, from a small struggling business, the destinies of the two Mauser brothers transformed their organization overnight into a great industrial concern. The newly organized Württembergische Vereinsbank of Stüttgart set up the Mauser Brothers and Company as a corporation and entered as a partner with an investment of 800 thousand marks. On the 20th of February 1874 the Chamber of Deputies officially signed the contract which became legal two weeks later transferring the Government Firearms Factory to the apparently non-military Mauser Brothers and Company Incorporated. An interesting sidelight on this development is that Paul Mauser himself had set up and was operating his arms factory in the ancient Augustine Cloister by the middle of December, 1873, and had established his home nearby—a good three months before the matter officially came up before the Chamber of Deputies. Wilhelm, meanwhile, had moved to the height where he supervised the Oberes Work.
In spite of the fact that the machinery at the former Government Firearms Factory was obsolete and had to be replaced with completely new equipment, the driving efforts of the two brothers resulted in completion of the Württemberg Government order in 1876, nearly six months ahead of schedule. Minor improvements were made in the Model 71 and Wilhelm obtained an order from the Chinese Government for 26 thousand rifles which was promptly filled.
For the next few years only the cooperation of the German military acting through their financial backers, kept the Mauser brothers in business. Wilhelm in particular, haunted the chancelleries of Europe looking for new business. Finally, in 1881 after intense competition both from the standpoint of quality of the arms and of the politics and economics always involved in military deals on an international basis, the Mausers succeeded in having the Serbian government adopt their arm. They were given an order for 100 thousand infantry rifles of caliber 10.15mm with an improved version of the famous Mauser lock. This order was the swan song of brother Wilhelm. Long ill and in intense suffering, he lived only long enough to see the Serbian order underway. On his death on the 13th day of January in 1882 the burden of support of Wilhelm’s family was taken over by Peter Paul. On his head and broad shoulders too fell complete charge of the operation of the plant which had contracted to complete the Serbian government order by the Spring of 1884. With all his duties and all his responsibilities, Peter Paul Mauser still found time to work steadily on new inventions, working with an indescribable energy which left him no time for social life.
He developed a breech loading pistol and a revolver which were patented in most of the great nations of the day. The introduction of the inferior Models 73 and 79 Service revolvers met with very little success in Germany, and one-hand weapons as such fell into military disrepute until the later development by Paul Mauser of the semi-automatic pistol. The failure of the Government revolvers as efficient weapons served to impede the military sale of the Mauser pistol and revolvers, although his arms were of superior design.
The success of the Spencer and Henry repeating rifles introduced in the American Civil War, and of the Winchester rifle which grew out of the Henry and was used with terrible effect by the Turks against the Russians, forced German military officials to recognize the need for a magazine rifle which would give increased infantry firepower. Peter Paul Mauser, being very close indeed to the Rifle Testing Commission, was of course thoroughly familiar with the desire of the military for such a development. He created several rather interesting designs in box loading magazines which were the beginning of his later successful types which became world standard. The successful ones are all listed in the body of this work. There were few types, however, with which he did not experiment.
The Henry-Winchester system of carrying cartridges in a tube below the barrel where they compressed a spring which thrust them successively back into a carrier for individual loading in the chamber, was an immediate success. Hence it was promptly picked up and utilized in experimental rifles in most of the important military nations in Europe.
In the Fall of 1880, Mauser applied this cartridge carrying principle to his original Model 71 Single Shot Rifle, a very important development as it permitted the use of standardized machinery and enabled the conversion of the single shot design to repeating rifle design at a minimum cost.
One of the proudest moments in the life of Peter Paul Mauser was a day in September of 1881 when at the Württemberg Industrial Exposition he was permitted to demonstrate his new magazine rifle to His Imperial Majesty Wilhelm I (1799-1888). It made such an impression on His Majesty, that a test by the Rifle Testing Commission was expedited. That trial was so successful that Mauser received an order for 2000 test weapons.
Those 2000 rifles were put into the field by the Prussian High Command for complete testing under field conditions. The rifle was shortly thereafter adopted under the official designation of “Infantry Repeating Rifle Model 71-84, caliber 11mm.”
Serbia at that time was a hot bed of militarism. Paul Mauser’s contacts were so good that he was able to obtain from the Serbian War Office an order for 4000 rifles and 4000 carbines, identical with the German type, but adapted to a special 10.15mm caliber cartridge used by the Serbians.
The Mauser Company about this time found it essential that they obtain additional work to keep the plant busy and they obtained military cooperation in the form of an order for 19,000 M71-84 rifles to arm the Württemberg Armies. The Bavarian and Prussian Governments manufactured the M71-84 in their respective Government Factories at their own expense, paying the Mauser corporation a royalty on each weapon.
The next forward step in the fortunes of Mauser Brothers & Company, was when it became a stock company on the First of April, 1884. The Württembergische-Vereinsbank placed its assistant director Alfred Kaulla on the Board of the Mauser Company to handle financial details, and left Peter Paul Mauser in sole charge of technical developments. In later years Kaulla was the true financial genius of the organization.
This was a period of change in Europe, a period of uncertainty in military circles, a period when technical developments in the field of explosives in particular, was so encompassed in rumor and experiment that each nation hesitated to change its weapons for fear of a giant technical stride which would at once invalidate their investments.
Mauser himself conducted long series of tests to determine the most efficient caliber using the black powder with which he was familiar. He finally established that a 9.5mm caliber gave the best ballistics with the powder then available; and during this time he also doubled the size of the locking lugs on his bolts as a protection against stepped-up breech pressures.
Meanwhile the French had put into use the development of the new smokeless powder satisfactorily produced by their chemist Vielle. This new powder permitted reduction of caliber to 8mm with improved ballistic performance to a degree which startled and worried all the other armies of Europe
Mauser, receiving no encouragement from his own government at this period, went to England with his new rifle, and again received a very cold reception. His next stop was Constantinople and in 1886, when the Turkish army was still equipped with American Remington and with Martini-Henry Single Shot Rifles and a sprinkling of American Winchesters, his new development received the attention to which militarily it was entitled.
After a series of tests and the customary amount of juggling inherent in government arms deals at that period, the competitive contract was finally granted to Mauser. Just what part the great Berlin firm of Ludwig Loewe & Co. played in obtaining this order is difficult to assess; but when Mauser received his order for 500,000 rifles and 50,000 carbines, it developed that Loewe was a 50-50 partner in the order. They took over all the stocks of the Mauser Firearms Factory and also undertook a huge order (425,000 rifles) for the newly adopted German Model 1888 Rifle most of which were manufactured at the Loewe plant in Berlin. This left the facilities of the Mauser factory itself open for the production of Turkish weapons.
Paul Mauser was extremely bitter at the adoption by the German Rifle Testing Commission of the Model 1888 Rifle. This arm, which used a modification of the Mauser bolt, utilized the Mannlicher type of packet loading in which the loaded clip is inserted into the rifle as an integral part of the magazine. It was officially listed as the “Infantry Rifle Model 88” and popularly known as the “Mauser and Commission.” Mauser forecast accurately the difficulties which would be encountered with this type of magazine loading, and time and military experience led to the eventual adoption of Mauser’s own system of clip loading (in which the cartridges are stripped off the clip into the magazine), a loading system which is still the most common in world use.
The Turkish Government contract called for delivery of a total of 500 weapons per working day. As the rated capacity of the Oberndorf plant had never been higher than 250 rifles per day, this order called for more industrial genius, courage and organization on the part of the director. The lower works, the “Ausseres Werk,” equipped with 100 horsepower steam engines in 1885, was enlarged and outfitted with new machinery in very short order.
While all the manufacturing facilities of the plant were turned over entirely to this Turkish rifle, Mauser himself still found time to experiment and develop rifles to handle the new type of smokeless powder then being produced.
After considerable experimentation, he found that in spite of the French adoption of the 8mm, the finest ballistic performance with the new powder was procurable with caliber 7.65mm and he proceeded to design a rifle having a jacketed barrel and using a 5-shot magazine below the receiver which could be loaded through the top of the open action.
Thus when in 1889 the Belgian Government after intense and highly intelligent tests of all known types of small arms, determined to develop a new rifle to equip its army, Mauser offered his new rifle for test.
When it is remembered that for years the sole general industry of the Lüttich area had been weapons, and the added fact that the Belgian Government was noted for its probity, the acceptance of the Mauser rifle as the official Belgian arm establishes at once the high quality of the design and workmanship of Paul Mauser’s product.
At this period there began the very close liaison between the arms manufacturers of Belgium and those of Germany which resulted in the development and use of strictly German types of arms for military use and for world wide sale since that time. The Belgian Ministry of War ordered several hundred thousands of these new Mauser rifles with the stipulation that they be manufactured by the Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre, at Herstal near Lüttich. This plant was established by a Lüttich syndicate with Ludwig Loewe & Co. of Berlin as a partner. These rifles were also made by the Fabrique d’Armes de L’Etat at Lüttich.
Thus was created the first truly successful really modern rifle.
With the Belgians completely rearming after these intensive tests and with the adoptions of smaller calibers by most of the European countries, the Turkish Government felt impelled to change to the smaller rifles with their improved ballistic performance. Thus after Mauser had produced 220,000 of the rifles in caliber 9.5mm, Turkey formally adopted the new Model 90 in caliber 7.65mm Turkish.
By the Fall of 1893 Oberndorf had provided 200,000 rifles and carbines of this model to Turkey. Argentina even at that early date had an intelligent and aggressive military group which kept abreast of developments in arms. Argentina, therefore, approached Mauser to manufacture a rifle of the same general type as the Turkish but with a heavier bolt for their army. Since the comparatively small capacity of Oberndorf was engaged for several years ahead, Argentina placed its order for 180,000 rifles and 30,000 carbines to be manufactured at Berlin by Ludwig Loewe & Co. to Mauser’s specifications. Again the part that Loewe played in obtaining this order is all too obscure, but a knowledge of the fundamental processes by which such deals are swung leads one to believe that while quality was all essential, the more prosaic matter of financial dealings also entered into the picture.
Mauser began direct negotiations with the Spanish Government in November, 1887, and endeavored to sell them his 9.5mm caliber rifle. The imminence of developments in the field of new explosives delayed the Spanish High Command from a commitment at that time; but in 1891 after his Belgian and Turkish models had demonstrated their worth, the Spanish gave Mauser an order for 1840 testing rifles of 7.65mm caliber as well as an order for 400 carbines of the same caliber for the Spanish Navy.
Paul Mauser visited Spain in 1892 after delivery of the trial orders and brought with him a rifle with improved magazine and designed to use a cartridge of 7mm caliber which he had developed for use with the new nitro powder. This new rifle had the now famous staggered magazine of Mauser construction with its fool-proof system of feeding which is the one in general military use in most countries today.
The Spaniards were so impressed with this new arm and its new cartridge that they not only placed an order with Mauser but also awarded him the Grand Cross of the Spanish Military Order of Merit, the highest decoration Mauser ever received.
Since Oberndorf under the Turkish contract could not manufacture anything but Turkish weapons during the life of their contract, the new Spanish weapons were again manufactured by Loewe, with the lone exception of 30,000 pieces which were manufactured in 1895 at Oberndorf on completion of the Turkish order. These Loewe manufactured Mausers of 7mm caliber were the famous rifles used by a small contingent of Spanish troops at San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, an engagement where despite the tremendous numerical superiority of the Americans, the Spaniards inflicted a terrifically high rate of casualties.
Two hundred and fifty-one thousand eight hundred Model 93 Rifles and 27,500 Model 93 carbines were delivered to Spain during this period, and the Arsenal at Oviedo in Spain was specially tooled up to manufacture Mausers. The Spanish Mauser retains an enviable record in military circles to this day for its reliability and accuracy.
In 1893 also Mauser traveled again to Constantinople to submit his Spanish Model in person to the Sultan of Turkey. The Turks grasped at once the conspicuous improvements Mauser had made, and once again passed over the monetary and practical factors involved and halted production on a rifle in manufacture. By that time 280,000 of the Model 90 Rifles had been delivered and Turkey increased the order from 550,000 to 700,000 weapons including in it 201,100 rifles under the designation of Model 93, the design being the same, but retaining the caliber of 7.65mm Turkish and using a cut-off on the magazine which permitted single shot fire while holding the magazine in reserve.
On his return to Germany Mauser resumed with feverish activity his never-ending round of work. He developed a special rifle and carbine in 6.5mm caliber in which he interested the Swedish Government. In August 1894 they ordered 5,000 pieces and in June, 1895, another 7185 pieces. Again it is of significance that additional Mausers were manufactured not at the Mauser plant, but at the Carl Gustave Stads Firearms Factory at Eskilstuna from Mauser-designed machinery. Mauser received a royalty on each rifle made by the Swedish Government. However, in 1899, when the Swedes could not fill their own requirements, an order for 45,000 of these rifles was placed directly with Oberndorf.
By the year 1894, the Germany Army had had sufficient experience with their Mannlicher type of rifle under field conditions to know that Mauser’s original contentions had been correct—that under strenuous service the Mauser loading system was much the better one. Hence in January, 1895, the German Army High Command gave a trial order for 2000 Mauser rifles in caliber 7.9mm to shoot the same cartridge as then used in the Model 88 Rifle, stipulating that the rifles have a jacketed barrel. In October of the following year, a second trial order was placed for 2,085 rifles, this time of a 6mm caliber, minus the barrel jacket. However, on mature consideration, it was decided that the official 7.9mm rifle caliber was the correct one. In 1898; under the designation of “Infantry Rifle 98,” the German Army adopted officially the 7.9mm Mauser Rifle without the barrel jacket.
In the following nine years, over 290,000 rifles were turned out at Oberndorf alone, while all the Government arsenals also participated in manufacturing this design for the complete re-equipment of the German forces.
This rifle, which formed the basis for much of the design of our own American Springfield Rifle, (on which a royalty of $200,000 was paid to Mauser by our Army), with slight modifications, mostly of woodwork, sights, length and weight, remains to this day the official German Service Rifle; and again with only minor modifications of sights and finish is the basis for practically all the truly high powered sporting rifles of turning bolt design, with the sole exception of the Austrian Mannlicher type.
Mauser was among the first to appreciate the value of the self-loading principle. In 1896, he introduced his famous first Mauser Self-loading Pistol in caliber 7.63mm, a pistol so fundamentally right, that it and its cartridge are practically unchanged to this day. This arm, which Winston Churchill in his History of the Sudan Campaign credits with saving his life because of its rapidity of fire and its large magazine capacity, was a startling development in the Boer War. It is a remarkable achievement in that all the parts interlock and no screws or pins are used in the assembly of the weapon, with the exception of the screw which fastens the stocks to the arm.
Mauser demonstrated this new pistol to his Imperial Majesty Wilhelm the Second, at Katharinenholz range near Charlottenburg, on the 20th day of August, 1896. The Kaiser was extremely interested in this new arm, and did personal target shooting with it much to the delight of the inventor.
This weapon was really the first truly successful military automatic pistol. Up to the beginning of World War II, over 700,000 of these pistols had been sold. While it was never an official pistol of the German forces, it was a substitute-standard used during both World Wars by Germany. It is highly prized in the Orient and is to be encountered anywhere in the world. On August 20, 1896, during the course of the test by the Kaiser, Mauser promised to turn his energy to the development of a self-loading infantry rifle, promising the Kaiser to have such a development within five years.
With all the energy left, this untiring worker, whose sole thought was the expansion of German military might, devoted himself to producing semiautomatic arms. The range of his developments in automatic systems may be found by examining the contents of this book. Most of his rifles were either cumbrous or complicated. However, he did lay the basis for many designs, one of which turned up during World War II as the prototype of the essential locking system of the ultra simple German Gewehr 43, and of the famous Russian Degtyarov and German Model 42 Light Machine Guns.
It is significant indeed, that with the passing of Peter Paul Mauser the only developments in his factory until World War II were a few elementary pocket pistols. The quality of his product was always kept up, but the true inventive genius of Waffenfabrik Mauser ceased with the founder’s death.
The very course of nations was made and altered by the inventions of Peter Paul Mauser and by the manner in which they were merchandised. No corner of the earth was too remote, no nation too small to merit the attention of his organization.
Where Mauser rifles and pistols went to bolster the police and military authorities of a nation, there too went Mauser technicians and German service personnel to instruct—and to influence.
Paul Mauser died at the height of his success, an honored and respected citizen of his country. All that one man could do to further the ends of his country, Paul Mauser had done. He himself knew only the acclaim and military “glory” of the Germany in which he lived. It was left to his descendants to learn the utter, final futility of his efforts in relation to Germany’s plans for world dominion.
The American Who Controlled The Mausers
Who was Samuel Norris? Just what part did he actually play in the development of the Mauser rifle? How did the Remington firm figure in Norris’ association with the Mauser Brothers?
In contacts with the Mauser organization before the war, and in all my studies of original German contemporary records of the Mauser organization and its affiliates, I could never unearth any satisfactory answers to those questions.
Norris was European agent for Remington in the late 1860’s. He entered into a contract to exploit the first Mauser rifle, then allowed his contract to go by default a bare year before the Prussian Government officially adopted the new weapon. Norris took out the first patent for the rifle in the United States.
Those were the essential facts derived from German sources. Paul Mauser himself never discussed his early dealings. The subject was one he disliked to think about as years brought him money and power and distinction. Why?
I could get no answer, either from the records or from European historians. A search of French, Austrian and Spanish records did nothing to explain the dearth of German information, but it did unearth many interesting sidelights on both Norris and the Remington organization of that period. As the pieces of the mosaic fitted together, they told an amazing story of adventure, business and enterprise in those dim early days of the breechloader.
The parts of that story which apply to the Mauser brothers directly has a tremendously important bearing on the contents of this book. Those parts, told largely in the actual written words of the incredible Samuel Norris himself, explain Paul Mauser’s reticence to discuss the early days of his organization. It was a bitter page in his life, one he sought to forget.
The name Mauser is known wherever firearms are known. The name of Samuel Norris is all but unknown today. A powerful figure in his time, Norris once held the destinies of the Mausers in the palm of his hand. The contract he drew for the signature of the destitute brothers is one of the strangest documents in all the strange history of firearms.
“I, (The Mauser Brothers) inventors of a system of breech-loading rifle and central percussion cartridge, agree to sell, cede, and transfer to (Norris) the ownership of the said invention, with all rights which result therefrom in order to secure patents in all countries whatever; they engage likewise to transfer to him the ownership of every invention of this kind that they shall make hereafter and of every improvement that they shall bring to their system of rifle and cartridge.”
That first article of the contract demonstrates graphically the extent to which Norris bound the impoverished Mauser brothers. For all this he was to pay them 80,000 francs over a period of fourteen years. If he personally decided to continue the contract that long! Even then there was a hook in the contract. Norris’ contacts with the French were excellent, and he had sounded out the French military with a view to selling them the Mauser system to transform their Chassepot needle rifles to metallic cartridge arms. The French encouraged him to believe they might buy the system. Buried in the contract, therefore, we find the following:
“10. In any event, it is understood that in case Mr. Norris should cease to pay completely the annual sum stipulated above, he shall retain meanwhile as indemnity for his trouble the French patent.”
During our Civil War the firm of E. Remington & Sons manufactured a variety of rifles for the North. Samuel Norris of Bristol, Rhode Island, sought War Department contracts as agent for Remington. In January 1865 he obtained one order for 5,000 carbines. These arms used the “split breech” mechanism as invented by Leonard Geiger and improved by Joseph Rider. When the hammer was thumbed back, the breechblock could be rolled back on its axis pin to expose the chamber for loading. The breech piece (or block) was split. Several design improvements came later.
With the drying up of the American market for military arms, Remington sent Samuel Norris and his brother John to Europe to canvass new markets. Their success was phenomenal. No European nation had either our machinery or our knowledge. Then—even as now—war and the threat of war hung like a pall over the entire continent. Every nation felt itself menaced. All sought means of improved defense. The doors of all the chancelleries of Europe were ready to be opened by arms salesmen. And the brothers Norris were super salesmen. They walked with the mighty. They dined with kings. They became wealthy and powerful. And they had a strangle hold on the Mausers.
While Norris recognized the inherent value of the new Mauser rifle, his primary interest was in converting the Chassepot. He took Remington into partnership on the rifle deal knowing that that they would bury the new bolt rifle in order to push their own rolling block rifle. Samuel Remington resolutely refused to face the fact that the bolt action was the coming military rifle; and the bankruptcy of his firm in 1885 stemmed in no small measure from that determination. It is to the credit of Samuel Norris that he tried to convince Remington that a change was coming.
When Norris was finally convinced that he had saturated the small European Nations with rolling-block Remingtons, that Samuel Remington would not push the bolt action, and that with the danger of approaching war France was against a change, Samuel Norris decided to save his yearly few thousand francs. He cut the Mausers adrift.
It is an irony of Fate that the one country where the Mauser never did make money was the one where Norris controlled the patents—France.
The Personal Account of Samuel Norris
In 1898, when the Mauser had proven itself a terrible weapon in the Boer War and in Cuba, when its name was a by-word in American newspapers, Samuel Norris sat down to write for posterity an account of his connection with the now famous rifle. The little Bristol Phoenix and the New York Times carried his account, an engrossing summary which is as remarkable for what it leaves out as for what it tells. Of the era in which the brothers Mauser worked (and nearly starved), Samuel Norris wrote:
“Every European Government was seeking a breech-loading system either as a new arm or as a transformation for muzzle-loaders. The English Government were about the first to decide, and they adopted the Snyder [Snider] as a transformation, really an American invention. Soon they began to transform their Enfields, the caliber of which was .57. [.577] Some years later the English Government adopted the ‘Martini-Henry’—the name of ‘Martini’ applied to the breech mechanism, that of ‘Henry’ to the barrel. Again this system was mainly American, the invention of a Mr. Peabody of Boston.
“All the Continental Governments were alive to this important change of armament. The Germans had years before been the pioneers in breechloaders in their needle gun. Its caliber was .78. [15.43-mm or .601] In the base of the ball fulminate was placed, and the powder was held in a paper case. When the trigger was pulled the needle in the bolt shot forward, striking and igniting the fulminate, and the explosion followed. It had no effective gas check, hence the range was very small, and the gas came back into the face of the firer. However, the superiority of even this mechanism over muzzle-loaders was shown in the war between Prussia and Austria, and this hastened the efforts of Austria to get a breech-loading system.
“A grand commission was appointed in Vienna, the president of which was the Archduke William, cousin of the Emperor. The commission tested many systems, and decided to recommend to the Emperor the ‘Remington.’ His Majesty was invited to the arsenal to see the arm, and, as was expected, to approve of its adoption. He came with a staff of some seventy officers. After the inspection he was invited to fire the arm. I was present and remember well the brilliant gathering on the green in front of the targets. A young officer first fired the ‘Remington’ most satisfactorily, then the Emperor took the arm to fire. This arm and the cartridges had been made in Vienna to conform to the ideas of the commission as to caliber, form of bullet, and charge of powder. American metallic cartridge machinery was unknown in Austria at that time, hence the cartridges used for this trial, which were rim fire, were very imperfect. The very first one used by the Emperor failed to ignite; all others were successfully fired. This failure, with which the arm had nothing to do, proved fatal in Austria. All the newspapers attacked the Government for considering the arm, echoing the wishes of the hundreds in Vienna at that moment who were interested in other arms. It was even cabled to Providence that an accident had occurred to the Remington in the hands of the Emperor—a wicked misrepresentation. So fiercely was the Government assailed that the adoption of the Remington was abandoned, and trials of all systems were stopped. A few months later they took up the Wendel [Werndl] arm, an Austrian invention, destitute of merit, and adopted it. The Caliber was about .43. Still later that Government adopted the ‘Mannlicher’ system.”
As Mr. Norris points out, the ammunition and the rifle were made in Austria and probably neither was up to the Remington-made standard. Certainly, no arm should be condemned because of the failure of a single cartridge to fire. To judge from the news accounts of the Vienna press, the system was rejected because a soldier was killed when a section of the split breechpiece was blown out. Indeed such a report was brought back to the United States by Lt. Col. C. B. Norton and figured in an official Congressional Report made on munitions at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867. Norton’s report is confusing, since it carries a cut of the improved solid breechblock which was in use when he filed his report.
When Austria adopted the Werndl, it is noteworthy that the special cartridge designed for it had an outside center fire primer specially constructed to prevent escape of gas to the rear from the charge. The breechblock of the rifle itself was rotated up and to the left; and was so mounted and constructed that accidents such as that ascribed to the split-breech Remington could not conceivably happen. The danger of weak cartridge heads and blown out blocks appears to have been almost an obsession with the engineers at Steyr Armory, where the Werndl was designed.
In the United States there was so much dissatisfaction with the split breech mechanism that Remington’s engineers worked to develop a more powerful, solid breechblock with a firing pin mounted in the block itself. This was the famous Remington Single Shot with which the Norris brothers blanketed much of the military world of that day. This new design was so staunch that even today specimens of the original rifles are in use in odd corners of the world—particularly in the Balkans and in South America; while in Sweden the design is currently manufactured as a shotgun lock mechanism. No stronger single shot rifle has ever been made.
The “improved” Remington was announced in the August 1866 issue of the U.S. Army and Navy Journal, but machine tool manufacture delayed actual production until the following Spring.
Indeed, in his own article Norris tells us indirectly of the new solid breechblock. He continues:
“Meantime the French Government were testing many systems. They inclined to the ‘Remington,’ and gave a small order of the dimensions they desired for exhaustive trial. At the moment this order was received in America an improvement had been made in that arm and much valuable time was lost in their delivery in Paris. Gen. Le Boeuf, President of the Committee of Artillery, was greatly annoyed at the delay, and as war clouds were gathering they hastily decided on the ‘chassepot,’ a bolt needle gun, using what was called a silk cartridge—that is, the case which contained the powder was made of silk, in the end of which was placed the fulminate and the needle by means of a spiral spring in the bolt when the trigger was pulled passed through and exploded it. For the purpose of preventing the escape of gas at the rear, what was called the tete mobile made of rubber was fixed on the end of this bolt. This entered the chamber, the explosion compressed it, and theoretically it was expected that it would prevent all gas and the debris from the burnt silk case coming out at the rear. This was not wholly realized. The debris did pass into and around the bolt, clogging the spring and the easy and proper movement of the bolt in the shoe in which it moved. After six or eight shots I have seen that the bolt could not be moved unless lubricated with water.
“The Greeks closely followed the investigations of the French at Vincennes, near Paris, and they decided on the Remington, and we made a contract for 15,000. These finally went to France during the Franco-Prussian War.”
Greek Captain Alexandros Fountouclis, though unmentioned in the Norris narrative, was a prime mover in the Greek contract. He toured Europe testing rifle systems for the Hellenic Government and finally decided on the Remington. The placing of the order brought severe repercussions from Greece, and the original order was violently opposed in some circles.
The Norris narrative compresses into a few paragraphs a running fire account of the amazing range of travel and contacts of the next few years. The diligence, ingenuity and shrewdness of the Yankee brothers was perhaps without parallel in its day. In his own account, Norris constantly glides over the hardships and hairbreadth escapes. No one reading this later day account of his would ever fathom the strange depths of his Puritanic early-New England philosophy; no one could hope to catch even a glimer of the tortuous mental and ethical processes which made him and many of his Yankee peers wealthy and respected men. And no one could hope to assay the courage, the fortitude and the gruelling effort he poured into his activities.
His account continues:
“The Danes made exhaustive trials in Copenhagen, and decided on either the Remington or Peabody, and sent a commission to America to contract for one of those arms. My brother, Mr. John Norris, devoted himself for some time to this effort, and finally, the Minister of War, Gen. Rassloff, advised me to follow his commission to America, as the decision would be made there, but he would not give any assurance that the decision would await my arrival. However, I went. It resulted in a contract for 30,000 Remingtons, which was followed by other contracts. This was in 1867. Almost simultaneously my brother made a contract with the Swedish Government for a large quantity of Remington mechanisms, they proposing to complete the arm in Sweden. This they did.
“Meantime the Spanish Government had officers in America. The Remington was decided on by them for Cuba and orders were given. Then followed trials at Madrid, and the Remington became the adopted arm of that Government. I made three contracts in behalf of the Messrs. Remington, viz., for 10,000, 50,000 and 130,000. The Spanish Government had on its hands the war in Cuba and with the Carlists in Spain. It was an event to get either to or from Madrid, journeys which I made several times, and at considerable risk, when I passed through the Carlist lines having in my luggage abundant evidence of my dealings with the Spanish Government. However, I never had any serious trouble. The last order they tried to cut short by 30,000 arms, for they had more arms than were needed. When I heard of this, being in St. Petersburg, I went directly to Madrid and was most fairly treated by Gen. Jovillia, the Minister of War and the former Governor General of Cuba. He had to refer the matter to several commissions, and finally I got a favorable decision from the Council of State and these arms were delivered and paid for. In fact, while these contracts amounted to several millions of dollars, all was paid with a good degree of promptness. My relations with all Spanish officials were always pleasant. The caliber of the Spanish arms was .43.
“When the Viceroy came to Europe to invite the various crowned heads to the opening of the Suez Canal, I was requested to meet Ratib Pasha in London for the purpose of negotiating a contract for ‘Remington’ arms. It resulted in a contract being executed in the smoking room of Buckingham Palace for 60,000 arms. Several other contracts followed, all the guns ordered being manufactured at Ilion.”
At this point, Author Norris in 1898 has set the stage to tell his story of his connection with the Mauser Brothers. Perhaps time has made him forget his dates: whatever the reason, he tells us that he first heard of the Mauser rifle in the seventies, while actually it was the Summer of 1867 when he first stumbled on his chance-of-a-life-time to dominate the small arms business of the World.
“Early in the seventies I was in Vienna. My friend, Count Bylandt, afterward Marshal and Minister of War of the Austrian Empire, told me of a new arm which he had seen. All he knew about it was that it was the invention of two brothers, Mauser by name, and that it came to him from Stuttgart, Württemberg. It was shown to me. It was a bolt gun, and I saw in it features which I thought could be utilized in changing the Chassepot to a metallic cartridge gun. On my return to Paris I saw the Committee of Artillery, and found that if it could be done it would at least greatly interest them. I at once went to Stuttgart, and at the War Office found the whereabouts of the Mausers. Their home was in Oberndorf—some distance from a railway line. I went there, and found they were at work in the small Government armory in that place. Soon I was introduced to them. They looked like crushed men—poor and working hard for their living. I found that the officials pooh-poohed their arm, and they had lost all hope. I asked them to my hotel, and soon I got the option to employ them and to exploit their invention if I should so elect within a certain number of days.”
Thus the story was told for the edification of the world and for formal history by Samuel Norris in the year 1898. This is a factual story, and like most factual stories it is true—as far as it goes.
But for the true story we must turn to other records which show the mental processes of the famous salesman at the time of the happenings—the uninhibited records of a devoted husband to his loving wife, some long forgotten letters of Samuel Norris.
After receiving assurances from the French that they would be interested in a device to alter the Chassepot needle rifle to a metallic cartridge arm, Norris set out on his journey to hunt up the obscure German gunsmiths who had solved the problem.
His letter to his wife written on September 13, 1867 is a far cry from the stilted literary form of his later article in the Bristol Phoenix. Here we see the devoted husband, the shrewd psychologist, the sharp trader, the indomitable traveler, the ingenious operator, the utterly ruthless exploiter—all the complex characters which were rolled into one composite to produce a man who was the epitome of the Yankee international businessman of the period of the middle 60’s. No problem is ever approached directly, no cards are ever on the table. The inventors have an article of merit, but they are hopelessly poor? Then buy for a low price! You want their rifle system for a conversion? Then talk of cartridges, and of what might be done—at great expense—with foreign patents on the rifle. But don’t mention France! Your employers, Remington, will not like your developing a competing rifle of more advanced design? They may cut you loose? Then dangle part of the new dirt-cheap contract before them! Suppose they don’t exploit it properly, all you are concerned with is the Chassepot conversion!
But let us see the letter itself:
“September 13th, 1867.
“Hardly was a journey commenced with as much doubt as this was when left Stuttgart and with such overwhelmingly satisfactory results. Suffering a good deal from a boil on my leg after five hours in the cars, I must say my heart almost failed me, when I came to get into the Post carnage at 9 A.M. to ride till one o’clock.
“However, I did it and was very comfortable. I got a good bed and this morning started out with my interpreter. I ought to say that when the landlord showed us to bed I asked him what sort of a town they had here. That was enough and he went on to talk of the gun factory and then about ‘Mauser’s wonderful gun.’ Of course we were very ignorant. He offered to take us to the gun works and enable us to see this new gun. So you see the ice was broken at once. Well—so this morning we went and manifested great interest in the rude machines and work they were doing. Presently Mr. Mauser was brought forward and I told him I would go to his room and see his gun—so we went and talked and talked and examined and all the time I gradually led on without showing what my desire was. We talked much about the cartridges, he having a new one, then I said I had one—and asked the two Mauser brothers to come to the hotel in the P.M. to see it. We said good-bye and came off. At one, they came and never left till eight this evening. Well, I have an agreement signed—giving me the right to the whole invention—gun and cartridges for the world for 6000 francs per year for ten years. Cheap enough. I have all the details in black and white and well understood. Strange to say in the course of a talk with my excellent men—one of them said—’We have a brother in America working in Ilion.’ A man I know very well and one of the best men in Remington’s works. I said nothing, but when I found I was going to nail them I told them I knew him and saw him six weeks ago. They were surprised and delighted for they had not seen him for sixteen years. Besides they remembered that he had mentioned my name in his letters—(probably and naturally as Remington’s representative in Europe). It gave them increased confidence, they said. Poor men, they are most intelligent, capable men, but have been kept down by every means possible and are now working twelve hours per day for four francs each. They have been told that their gun was the best before this and the Bavarian Government and I think it is the one these Governments will take.
“In fact—it is the cheapest thing yet produced and in many respects the best. I wanted it, as you know, for changing the Chassepot and they say they can do it. I hardly mentioned that however—though in the paper they agree to give me France in consideration of the patents I obtain for them in the next ninety days, if I don’t carry out the whole agreement. So I have what I came for and more if I desire. I have not of course, determined what is best, but if E.R. and Sons do right, I think I shall let them in, in consideration of my continuing to act for them in the ‘R’—This will induce them to do this, otherwise it might lead to a split, which I want to avoid. Besides, while I should be served, they will be too, for we need not force this, when there is any chance for the ‘R’—then too, it’s a good thing for them for it’s the coming gun—and cheap as dirt and easily made, I mean quickly.”
Norris knew the psychology of his employers quite as well as he knew the psychology of those he employed. For an interest in the new patent, Samuel Remington was prepared to keep Norris in his employ: that way he could also control what might otherwise prove dangerous competition. And after all, the contract stipulated nothing about aggressively marketing the Mauser.
A closing note in the Norris letter of September 13th gives an additional sidelight on the strong tide of fortune which flowed for him in that year 1867:
“Well now I start at twelve midnight—ride in the Post carriage till four—then take the cars to Stuttgart arriving there at 9:30 tomorrow morning. Then at one, if I feel able and ride all tomorrow P.M. and night arriving Vienna, Sunday morning. Then I shall go to see Count Bylandt, he has one of the guns.
“It is certainly an incident this getting complete control of what promises to be an important gun in a little town in the interior of Germany through the tongue of a rather poor interpreter, for me and for them, as his German is quite different from theirs.”
Norris continually worked at a feverish pace, his energy was all but boundless. The 25th of September 1867 found him in Liege, Belgium, where he wrote to his wife:
“My German boys have come and I have had them examining the Chassepot, and they say, without hesitation, they can easily change their arm as I want it changed. Certainly it promises well and I pray that it may result as well as we hope.”
The following day he wrote his wife a graphic letter from the Hotel Suede in Liege:
“I am in my room, the two Mausers sitting at the table—my patent lawyer ditto at work at drawings. My interpreter examining the Chassepot—my cigar at my side—the table covered with all sorts of things—guns—cartridges—papers, etc. So much for the picture before me.”
For once Samuel Norris was not telling his faithful wife the whole story—there was much more in “the picture before me.”
There were two trusting, hard working men of genius blindly placing confidence and hope in him. To Samuel Norris they were merely “my German boys:” just two hard working, poverty stricken youths with a potential gold mine and no cash resources. For all his deep knowledge of how to influence people, Samuel Norris failed to plumb the depths or to assay the real stature of the simple men before him.
He could not look into the future and see sickly Wilhelm Mauser who, but a few years later, was to have opened for him all the Chancellery doors which by then would be forever closed to the once powerful Samuel Norris.
Nor could he look a few years still further into the future and see the brawny Paul Mauser who would talk with kings; and whose arms would sell in the tens of millions in all corners of the World.
If Samuel Norris had sensed those possibilities, if he had drawn a different contract, if he had pushed the new rifles as the inventors were led to believe he would—and as they themselves did—who can say how the history of the world might have been changed? Instead, he had drawn up in French—a language utterly unknown to the “parties of the second part”—the contract here translated:
“ME LOUIS DELBOUILLE
Notaire à Liège
Between Samuel Norris, manufacturer of arms, residing at Paris, rue de Berry, No. 2,—of the first part,
Wilhelm Mauser, armorer, residing at Oberndorf (Wurtenberg), and Paul Mauser, likewise armorer, and residing at Oberndorf,—of the second part,
The following agreement has been made:
1.—The parties of the second part, inventors of a system of breech-loading rifle and central percussion cartridge, agree to sell, cede, and transfer to the party of the first part the ownership of the said invention, with all the rights which result therefrom in order to secure patents in all countries whatever; they engage likewise to transfer to him the ownership of every invention of this kind that they shall make hereafter and of every improvement that they shall bring to their system of rifle and cartridge.
2.—The parties of the second part engage accordingly to do everything that shall depend on them to help Mr. Norris in obtaining patents for the said system in the different countries.
They give him for this purpose one or more irrevocable powers of attorney to take these patents either in his own name or in the names of the parties of the second part.
They will sign all papers and documents that shall be considered necessary and engage in general to do everything that shall be necessary to help Mr. Norris in the execution of his task.
3.—Mr. Norris shall have the right to dispose as he shall desire of the patents obtained whether under his name or those of the parties of the second part, who renounce taking out for rifles and cartridges of this kind any patents in any country unless as explained above by the mediation of the party of the first part.
The parties of the second part engage to sign and ratify all contracts of transfer of these patents to third parties if their intervention be demanded by the party of the first part; in one word, to perform all the acts necessary to transfer legally their ownership, the case arising.
4.—The parties of the second part undertake during six months, from the 13th of September last, to work for Mr. Norris or his representatives, if the party of the first part requires it, at the price of three to four florins per day for each of them, according to the expenses which they shall have to incur—
Mr. Norris will pay to them their fare if they be required by him to go to Vienna, or Paris or any other place.
5.—All the costs of patents are at the expense of the party of the first part.
6.—Besides the said party of the first part will pay to the parties of the second part within the period of ten years counting from this day for all the patents obtained and to be obtained the sum of 80,000 francs as indicated in the following articles, to wit:
Three thousand francs the first year—3000
Three thousand francs the second year—3000
Five thousand francs the third year—5000
Six thousand francs the fourth year—6000
Seven thousand francs the fifth year—7000
Nine thousand francs the sixth year—9000
Ten thousand francs the seventh year—10000
Eleven thousand francs the eighth year—11000
Twelve thousand francs the ninth year—12000
Fourteen thousand francs the tenth year—14000
Total: Eighty thousand francs—80000
This sum shall be payable by fourths at the expiration of each quarter.
7.—This sum of eighty thousand francs, likewise each annual sum, shall be distributed in the following manner among the different patents to be obtained:
A sixth for the English patent.
A sixth for the French patent.
A sixth for the U.S. patent.
A portion by equal parts for all the other patents.
8.—If from year to year, the number of these last patents obtained happen to increase there will be accomplished a new distribution proportional to the recompense due for each of them.
9.—In case Mr. Norris elects not to continue the payment of the recompense due for one of the patents obtained by him, after the manner of distribution indicated, the parties of the second part will have no other right than to take possession of this patent, without indemnity for Mr. Norris, who retains nevertheless the ownership of the other patents of which he shall have paid the recompense.
10.—In any event, it is understood that in case Mr. Norris should cease to pay completely the annual sum stipulated above, he shall retain meanwhile as indemnity for his trouble the French patent.
If however he has or should hereafter sell this French patent, he shall pay the sixth of the annual sum, as it is stipulated above.
If it should happen that the system Mauser be adopted at the same time by three of the four Governments, England, Austria, America or France, the total of the annual sum shall be paid to the parties of the second part.
11.—The sum of five hundred florins already paid to the parties of the second part by Mr. Norris will be entered on the account of the third annuity.
12.—The parties of the second part at all events shall have the right to receive and retain altogether the first two annuitis of three thousand francs each.
13.—The present arrangement shall become definite only if Mr. Norris gives notice of his acceptance within ninety days, dating from September 13 last.
14.—If the parties of the second part by their fault should cause delay in validating the patents, they shall be responsible to Mr. Norris.
Done in duplicate the 28th of September, one thousand eight hundred sixty-seven.
Approved, the preceding document except clause number 11 in which the words “on account of the third annuity” are replaced by the words “on account of the first annuity.”
Signed Wilhelm Mauser, Paul Mauser
Besides it is expressly stipulated that the Messrs. Mauser can not under any pretext, directly or indirectly, transmit to third parties the rights which belong to the present contract of which the stipulations are applicable to the heirs of both parties.
Done in duplicate at the date above.
Signed Wilhelm Mauser, Paul Mauser, Samuel Norris
Witnesses: Emile Dupone, William Smith.”
The contract, a truly historic document in the field of firearms, tells its own story. The Mausers were to work for “three or four florins per day for each of them, according to the expenses which they shall have to incur.” (A florin was worth something under fifty cents.)
For the first and second years they were to get 3000 francs per year. (The franc was worth about twenty cents then.)
The third year they were to get 5000 francs. (But by that time it was evident the new design could not be sold to France, so the contract was abrogated. Why waste 5000 francs?)
And as a crowning indignity, the final paragraph arranged to deduct from the first year’s “annuity” of 6000 francs the sum of 500 florins “already paid.” (Why let it go until the third year as originally stipulated? Who knows if the contract will be carried into the third year? Certainly a prophetic question. And another $250 of good American cash saved.)
Article 9 of the contract gave Mr. Norris an easy way out, once he was confident he could not swing a deal with the French Government. The Mausers had no recourse against him. All they could do was take control of their patent.
By 1870 he knew the French could not be sold, and rather than face the prospect of paying the Mausers the sum of 5000 francs—$1000—as stipulated for the third year, Samuel Norris exercised his rights under Article 9.
For a time the Mausers were stunned, but by then they had observed their employer long and closely, and they had learned much about how to proceed with War Ministries. The story of the official acceptance of the Mauser as the German service rifle has been told from the records of the Mauser organization in the earlier part of this essay.
When Samuel Norris failed to pay that pitiful third annuity, and lapsed his contract, he forfeited all rights to patents which would have made him far richer and more widely known than he ever dared to dream.
And now, what of the further association of the “parties of the first and second parts?” Let us again turn to the Bristol Phoenix account.
“My brother was interested with me, and later the Messrs. Remington became interested. We employed them about two years in working out the invention, making models, etc. Mr. Samuel Remington, who was in Europe, discouraged its presentation to military authorities, being anxious that the Remington should be the only arm to be energetically pushed. It was a grave error, for the inclination of military men was in favor of a bolt gun, following the German and French systems. The Mausers got discouraged and went home to Oberndorf, and soon after most wisely took their arm to Spandau, near Berlin, where all trials of arms and other military material were made. Soon the German Government adopted it, and it became the arm of the most powerful army on the Continent of Europe.”
Thus wrote Samuel Norris in his quaint little New England home in the year 1898. What his true thoughts were we do not know—there are no late letters to show what he really felt. But he must have known that he had failed to take his tide at flood. His own “clever” business dealings had taken control of Mauser forever out of his grasp.