The Benjamin Air Rifle Company has been in business since 1902, when it was founded in St. Louis, Mo., by Walter Benjamin. The company has passed through several changes of ownership since it was founded, acquiring the Sheridan Products company in the process. Now the company continues to manufacture its highly prized air rifles in East Bloomfield, N.Y.
An air rifle is a gun that relies on compressed air or carbon dioxide to fire its projectile instead of using gunpowder. Because there is no explosion when the gun is fired, it is virtually silent and does not emit smoke. Meriwether Lewis carried one with him on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, using it to awe the Indians he met along the way.
The Benjamin Air Rifle Company has been manufacturing air rifles, mostly from its own patented designs, since 1902. Aficionados of both its antique and new air rifles prize them highly.
D.T. Fletcher self-published in 1999 the most comprehensive account of the origins of the St. Louis and Benjamin Air Rifle Companies. According to Fletcher, Walter Benjamin owned several farms in Grand Tower, Illinois, a small town about 100 miles south of St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. In 1898, Benjamin patented his first air rifle design, U.S. patent number 627,320. He founded the St. Louis Air Rifle Co. in 1899, but did not open offices in St. Louis until 1901, the same year he incorporated the firm. That same year, the company failed because of what Fletcher describes as intense competition by other air rifle manufacturers, “price fixing and just plain old price competition …”
The Benjamin AIr Rifle Company
By 1902, Benjamin had bought up all the patents the St. Louis Air Rifle Company had owned and opened a new company named the Benjamin Air Rifle Company. The company was only in business until 1905, but in 1908, Benjamin and A. Wissler formed the Benjamin Air Rifle and Manufacturing Co. Benjamin continued to design air rifles, but increasingly he became interested in designing other machines, like vacuum cleaners. In the fall of 1909, the company went through a reorganization, with Wissler becoming president and secretary. Wissler died in 1926, at which point Aloys Peter Spack bought the air rifle company from Wissler’s estate.
The company continued to manufacture and sell air guns, making improvements to its designs and creating new ones, into the 1970s.
The Benjamin Air Rifle Company bought out one of its competitors, Sheridan Products of Racine, Wisconsin, in 1977. In 1986, Benjamin moved all its production from St. Louis to the Racine facility.
In 1992, Crosman Corporation, which manufactures air guns, air gun accessories, and paintball guns and accessories, bought Benjamin Sheridan in its entirety. Crosman closed the operation in Racine in 1994 and moved production of Benjamin Sheridan products to its home location in East Bloomfield, N.Y. Crosman now sells air rifles and pistols under the Benjamin and Sheridan names as well as its own.