Daisy Outdoor Products Inc.
Daisy Outdoor Products Inc.
400 West Stribling Road
Rogers, Arkansas 72756
Telephone: (479) 636-1200
Toll Free: (800) 643-3458
Fax: (479) 636-1601
Web site: http://www.daisy.com
Sales: $70 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 332116 Metal Stamping; 333912 Air and Gas Compressor Manufacturing
Daisy Outdoor Products Inc., based in Rogers, Arkansas, is the world’s oldest and largest producer of air guns and air gun ammunition and accessories. Over its history, the private company has made almost 400 different models of BB and pellet guns and nearly 100 different models of toy guns. Although for a brief period it also manufactured a line of conventional firearms, today it primarily makes and markets air and gas propelled BB guns, air rifles, air pistols, CO2 pistols, and sling shots, all made and marketed with an eye to appealing to buyers of various ages and levels of experience. The company’s most celebrated product is the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, with over nine million sold since its introduction in 1940. In addition to its line of air guns and such accessories as targets and gun sights, the company offers an expanding line of Daisy-brand merchandise, including caps, T-shirts, clocks, tin signs, and a thermometer. Majority ownership of the company is now held by Charter Oak Capital Partners.
1880–88: Origins as the Plymouth Iron Windmill Co.
Daisy had a rather inauspicious beginning, not as a maker of air rifles but of windmills. The company’s founder, Clarence Hamilton, at some point before 1880, moved from his native state of Ohio to Plymouth, Michigan, and set up a watch repair shop in the left front window of a drug store owned by Roswald L. Root, whose store also accommodated the town’s post office and the offices of its bank, the First National Bank of Plymouth.
Although a watchmaker and jeweler by training, Hamilton was also an inventor and able tinkerer, set on trying out new ideas. One notion he came up with was an all metal, vaneless windmill, which, he thought, he could successfully manufacture and market. He soon had the backing of a group of local citizens, including Root and L.C. Hough, and in 1880 the fledgling company, the Plymouth Iron Windmill Co., went into production.
The following year, Hamilton acquired a patent on his windmill, and thereafter, in 1882, secured the company’s incorporation in Michigan, with a subscription of $30,000 in stock. In that year, too, the company bought 25 acres of land near downtown Plymouth and soon built a two-story, 8,000-square-foot building to house both the company’s offices and its factory.
Sales proved disappointing, and by January 1888 the company’s investors were seriously thinking about liquidating and closing the business. However, after tabling a motion to do so, they made the decision to hang on for one more year. It proved a fortuitous move, thanks to one of Hamilton’s newest gadgets—an air rifle—that he brought to a later board meeting.
Air guns were not a complete novelty at the time, and Hamilton was certainly not the inventor of his type of air rifle. In fact, over a decade earlier, H.M. Quackenbush of Herkimer, New York, had started making air guns and is generally credited with developing the toy-type BB gun. Quackenbush started his business in 1872, after working for a time for Remington Arms. He first made and sold air pistols that he had patented the year before. His gun was cocked by pushing in its barrel, thereby compressing the gun’s spring, a significant departure from methods used in earlier, crank-type spring guns that were much more costly. Quakenbush’s gun sold for $10.
Hamilton was also influenced by another Plymouth businessman, Captain William F. Markham, who, in 1886, had started making an air rifle which he styled the Chicago Air Rifle. Mark-ham’s product quickly made him and his backers wealthy. However, unlike Markham’s air rifle, made mostly of wood, Hamilton’s was made entirely of metal and was unlike anything his associates had ever seen. At the time he showed it to his company’s board, Hamilton’s air gun prompted Hough to proclaim, “Boy, Clarence, that’s a daisy!” It was a name that stuck.
1889–1929: Daisy Air Rifle Markets Expand on a National Scale
Initially, the company decided to produce a few of the newly dubbed Daisy air rifles to give as free gifts to anyone who bought a windmill, but it soon became obvious that the Daisy was much more appealing than the company’s windmills. Accordingly, in January 1889, the company’s directors approved a motion to make the air gun its principal product and to gradually phase out the manufacture of windmills altogether. It proved to be one of the most successful manufacturing turnarounds in the history of American businesses and as such became a textbook model.
In January 1895, by which time annual windmill sales had dropped below $100, the company changed its name from Plymouth Iron Windmill Company to Daisy Manufacturing Company, Inc. The air guns made by the company had considerable appeal to rural residents in Michigan, who used them to hunt small game and for target practice. In some ways, they were an ideal first gun for youngsters who would eventually graduate into using fire arms with a more lethal capability. The Daisy air guns offered a degree of safety that the company over the years would stress in its advertising.
In 1897, Daisy entered a marketing agreement with its major competitor, the Markham Air Rifle Company, and some other air gun makers to fix prices and even jointly market some products. By that time, Markham was making its “King,” a metal air gun introduced in 1892 to compete with the Daisy. Togther, Daisy and Markham marketed air gun models under the name Sentinel, which ultimately would cause confusion as to which company actually made them.
Gradually, Daisy’s distribution and sales moved from local to regional and finally national markets, its success driven by the fact that the company led its competitors in its innovations and product improvements. For example, in 1909 Daisy introduced a repeating air rifle that shot up to 40 times with a single loading. By that time, too, Daisy’s gross sales had reached $213,307 in its expanding markets. In 1916, as a result of its successful sales, Daisy was able to buy a controlling interest in Markham, whose founder, Captain Markham then packed his family off to California.
When the United States finally entered World War I, which had erupted in Europe in 1914, the company’s advertisements ballyhooed the part that its air guns had played in teaching America’s doughboys how to shoot. It was hardly an exaggerated claim. Many youngsters, both on the farm and in urban areas, had learned how to shoot and handle a weapon using one of Daisy’s air guns.
Success continued in the aftermath of the war. In 1921, Daisy introduced a new lever-action, single-shot air rifle that sold for $1.50 and a lever-action, 350-short repeater, air rifle that sold for $2.50. These were popular enough in the 1920s to lead to sales of $721,511 in 1928, by which time Daisy had a well established name and widely marketed products.
In 1928, Markham Air Rifle Company restyled itself the King Air Rifle Company. At that time, King was selling most of its guns to Sears and Roebuck, which, because of Sears’ discounting policy, Daisy did not do, except for its Model 25. Daisy elected to pursue that policy until 1935. Although King guns had always been as good as Daisy’s, most boys preferred to own a Daisy. In fact, Daisy’s famous Buck Jones Pump Gun was made with the 1931 King No. 5 Pump Gun design. However, after 1940, King BB guns were no longer manufactured as such.
1930–41: Depression Years Do Not Dampen Daisy’s Success
During the 1930s, while many other businesses struggled just to survive, Daisy managed to do so fairly easily, even though King Air Rifle was in deep financial straits and Daisy’s own sales dropped by 30 percent. In 1931, Daisy closed the King plant and began manufacturing all King air guns at its own facility.
Daisy was bolstered up by the fact that it achieved international recognition thanks to its introduction of signature guns. These were endorsed by a range of celebrities, including Hollywood cowboy actors and comic strip heroes such as Buck Rogers, Buck Jones, and Buzz Barton. Among others, there was a 107 Buck Jones Special and a 103 Buzz Barton Special. These guns set new record sales that were not topped for a fair stretch of years.
It was also in the 1930s that Sheldon Baker began his long career with Daisy. Hired in 1934, Baker was taken on as a metal worker. His first job was grinding down the rough edges on the stamped parts used in assembling Buck Rogers 25th Century Pop Guns. The future president and CEO would play a vital part in shaping the company in the post World War II years.
The demand for the rifles and improved production methods allowed Daisy to lower the price of its air rifles. In 1935, customers could buy a Daisy for just $1.00. That made it affordable for virtually any family, despite the hard times, and the campaign, featuring Buck Jones, was hugely successful. The company even began taking direct mail orders because in some locales retailers did not stock Daisy air rifles.
Daisy Outdoor Products is the “world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of air guns, ammo and accessories. Each year we produce in excess of 5 million items, the bulk of which are airguns, the firm’s specialty. In addition, Daisy works with a number of national youth organizations to provide young owners of Daisy products the opportunity to learn of the responsibility of gun ownership, through shooting education programs and also the excitement of national shooting competitions.
Even the company’s better air guns did not carry a huge price tag. In 1936, for example, celebrating its 50th anniversary, Daisy marketed the celebrated Golden Eagle, 1,000 shot repeater, selling it for $2.50. If that was a bit pricey for some, it still did not cost quite as much as one of Daisy’s most successful air rifles—the Red Ryder BB gun—first marketed in 1940. Testifying to the great popularity of that particular model, the Red Ryder licensing agreement, signed in 1938, would become what is believed to be the oldest, continually-in-force licensing agreement in the nation’s business history. The gun sold for $2.95, but it was the dream of millions of American kids to own one, so bad times or not, many families anted up the cost. The rifle was more than a toy, and many parents warned their children “you’ll shoot your eye out,” but forked over the money anyway. Another gun Daisy marketed the same year was its Double Gun, made to look like a 12-gauge shotgun. The 100-shot repeater gun featured double barrels and two triggers and sold for $5.00. It was also a product that kids were desperate to buy.
1942–57: Challenges During Wartime and the Postwar Period
Many of Daisy’s BB guns made before World War II never went into production again once the war started. King BB guns had already been phased out in 1940, principally because they had never been as popular as Daisy’s guns, although King designs did play a part in Daisy’s success. A case in point is its Buck Jones, No. 5 Pump Gun, which became a perennial favorite.
In the war years, the company made an important, direct contribution to the war effort by manufacturing 37 mm canisters, holders for aircraft flare pistols, motor armature laminates, and switches, severely curtailing its output of air guns. It did produce two models of play guns for domestic use: the Chattermatic and the Commando. Because metal was scarce, Daisy made these toys largely from wood.
The famous Red Ryder air rifle did survive the war and became the signature product of Daisy when the company went back into full peacetime production in 1945, continuing as its most solid seller through the next several years. However, in the war’s wake there was a strong anti-gun movement, which, though Daisy’s products were hardly lethal weapons, posed a serious marketing problem for the company. The company was among the first manufacturers to counter that movement when, in 1947, it issued the “American Boy’s Bill of Rights,” written by Cass S. Hough, who worked at Daisy for over 50 years, including a 13-year spell as the company’s president.
Although Daisy continued to market its BB and other air rifles, it also manufactured other products. In 1953, it introduced a toy gun called the 960 Noise-maker, which proved to become the largest selling toy of its sort in history. The company also marketed complete gun and holster sets under the trademark Daisy Country, which also proved very popular.
1958–99: Daisy Moves to Arkansas and Expands Its Product Line
A major move for Daisy came in 1958, when the company relocated its plant from Plymouth, Michigan, to Rogers, Arkansas. The new, expanded facility allowed the company both to increase its output and broaden its product line. For example, in 1961, the company began marketing replicas of western guns in a very successful line called Spittin’ Images. Included in the line were replicas of the Winchester 94, the Remington Fieldmaster, and the Colt revolver. The most popular was the Winchester 94, which, for a time, even outsold the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.
Over the next several years, Daisy would add CO2 and pellet guns, .22 caliber firearms, and, finally, paintball guns. Some of its products had a short history, like the VL0001, Daisy’s first real firearm. That gun used “caseless ammunition,” a rocket-fuel like propellant developed by Jules Van Langenhoven, a Belgian petrochemist. The gun was introduced in 1968 but went out of production the following year.
In 1970, Daisy engineer James Hale invented the first commercially successful paintball gun, dubbed the Splotchmaker. At the time, its was not designed for sport but rather as a marking device for identifying trees and cattle. Thereafter, for two decades, Daisy made the paintball guns for the Nelson Paint Company.
Some of its products would get Daisy into legal battles with such agencies as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as well as individuals who brought liability suits against it. One line that caused trouble was its Powerline Airguns, first introduced in 1972. Close to 30 years after Daisy started making the guns, the CPSC filed a suit against it because the company had refused to recall 7.5 million Powerline Airguns. According to CPSC’s suit, some 15 deaths and 171 serious injuries were associated with the air guns. As one might expect, Daisy would be a target for an increasing number of lawsuits in the growing consumer-safety mood of the United States in the last three decades of the 20th century and beyond.
- Clarence Hamilton founds Plymouth Iron Windmill Company in Plymouth, Michigan.
- Company suspends its production of windmills and begins manufacturing Daisy BB guns exclusively.
- Company changes its name Daisy Manufacturing Company, Inc.
- Daisy introduces first repeater air rifle.
- Daisy acquires a controlling interest in Markham Air Rifle Company.
- Markham is renamed King Air Rifle Company.
- King Air Rifle closes its plant, and Daisy begins making King air guns at its own facility.
- Daisy begins marketing its famous Red Ryder BB gun and discontinues the manufacture of King air guns.
- Company introduces the 960 Noise-Maker, its best selling toy gun.
- Headquarters are moved to Rogers, Arkansas.
- Company begins marketing Spittin’ Image line of gun replicas.
- Daisy’s James Hale invents the first commercially successful paintball gun.
- Charter Oak Capital Partners makes a significant investment in the company.
- Daisy acquires paintball maker Brass Eagle, Inc.
- Daisy divests its paintball operations.
Despite the legal risks involved, in the early 1990s, further diversifying its product line, Daisy once more began to manufacture firearms. It produced six models of conventional .22 caliber firearms. Included in this new Legacy line were two single-shot, two bolt-action, and two semi-automatic rifles. These shared a fate similar to the earlier VL0001, poor sales, and Daisy soon suspended their manufacture.
In 1993, Charter Oak Capital Partners, a group investing in middle market companies, acquired Daisy. Charter Oaks had started private equity investments in 1992, using $60 million to acquire Daisy and five other middle market, niche-manufacturing businesses. Assured of adequate capitalization, Daisy was able to consider expansion through diversification. At the time, 1993, the use of paintball guns for mock battles had become a popular, recreational sport. In that year, Daisy joined Brass Eagle, a small Canadian paintball company, in the manufacture of sport models for enthusiasts. Two years later, in 1995, Daisy bought both the name and assets of Brass Eagle as well as its patents. Then, in 1997, it spun the company off, under CEO Lynn Scott, who had served as a Daisy vice-president.
2000 and Beyond: New Directions and a New Name
Despite niggling problems for Daisy in the nation’s consumer-protection vogue, at the start of the new century the company continued to thrive, partly through diversification and partly through refashioning its image. Among other things, the company entered some licensing agreements with other companies, notably Winchester, and began manufacturing a line of powerful air guns under that time-honored name. The company also started doing business as Daisy Outdoor Products, Inc., reflecting the burgeoning range of products it sold under its own brand name, including T-shirts and caps, slingshots and birdfeeders. In 2003, the company also added archery products to its line.
Airgun Designs; Beeman Precision Airguns; Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Inc.; Crosman Corporation; Gamo USA; Smith & Wesson Corporation.
Brandt, W. Paul, and Frank S. Golad, “How Daisy Turned Windmills into BB Guns,” Sports Afield, October 1996, p. 96.
“CPSC Sues Over BB Airguns,” United Press International, August 30, 2001.
Punchard, Neal, Daisy Air Rifles and BB Guns: The First 100 Years, St. Paul, Minn.: MBI Publishing, 2002.
Tefertillar, Robert L., “Dandy Daisy Rifles,” Antiques & Collecting Magazine, January 1995, p. 46.
—John W. Fiero