Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Beretta: A History of the World's Oldest Firearm Company

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The Val Trompia valley district in Italy, including the city of Gardone, runs through the Columbine Mountains which is a source of high-grade iron ore. During the Middle Ages it was the center of iron working and, in the beginning of the Renaissance Era it was known for its high quality gun making. Maestro Bartolomeo Beretta was a master gun barrel maker living in Gardone. In 1526, Bartolomeo was paid by the Arsenal of Venice to make 185 arquebus barrels, making the Beretta company the oldest manufacturing company in the world. It is written that the bill of sale from 1526 is still in the company’s archives. Bartolomeo Beretta’s son, Jacomo and his grandson, Giovannino, both became master gun barrel makers. This passed-on trade has continued for over 500 years. The Beretta family has continuously controlled the company for the company’s entire history! Ugo Gussalli Beretta and his two sons, Pietro and Franco still maintain leadership of Beretta today.

The Beretta family business continued to grow and by 1698 they were the second largest gun barrel producer in Gardone. The Berettas continued to produce gun barrels during Napoleon’s invasion in 1797 and well into Austrian rule.

Pietro Antonio Beretta was now working for the company and in 1815 began traveling throughout Italy in order to sell more gun barrels. In 1832, he named the family company, Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta. After Pietro’s death in 1850, his son, Giuseppe took over and encouraged the company to start making complete guns. By 1860, Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta was making 300 firearms a year. Guiseppe was succeeded by his eldest son, another Pietro, in 1903. That Pietro lead the company for 54 years until he died in 1957.

With Pietro in charge, Beretta grew substantially, even employing their own source of power- a hydroelectric plant. By 1880, Beretta’s production grew to 8,000 firearms a year.

Drawing on their past experience with supplying firearms to the military, Beretta had contracts with the Italian Royal Army during WWI and WWII. In 1915, Beretta produced the Model 1915, the company’s first pistol. By the end of WWII, Beretta was making 4,000 Model 1915s a month.

In 1975, Beretta introduced the Model 92 in 9mm. The Model 92 is the most widely used self loading pistol in law enforcement and the military in the world today. (“The World of Beretta: An International Legend” R.L Wilson)

Beretta entered the US market in 1977. The move proved very fruitful for the company. In April of 1985, the Beretta Model 92 beat out the Colt .45 to become the U.S Armed Forces chosen handgun. Beretta has continued to grow their line of fine sporting firearms and has added a high-end clothing line. In 1995, Beretta opened its first gallery in New York. Today there are Beretta galleries in Dallas, Buenos Aires, Paris, Milan and London.

Beretta’s website reports that the company produces about 1,500 pieces a day with 90% of those pieces being sporting firearms. Beretta also owns Benelli, Franchi, Sako, Stoeger, Tikka, Uberti, Burris Optics and a 20% interest in Browning.

Want to learn more? Click here to see our Frequently Asked Questions page covering the Beretta 92.

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