O.F. Mossberg & Sons: The Amazing Origins of the Last Great Family-Owned American Gun Maker

This year, one of America’s great firearms manufacturers turns 100 years old. Founded in 1919, O.F. Mossberg & Sons grew a reputation for producing quality, innovative guns for the civilian market at reasonable prices. Their engineering creativity is in evidence in more than 100 design and utility patents they originated.

Since 1961 the product most readily associated with the company was their excellent Model 500 pump shotgun. In 1970, twin action-bars replaced the single one and this shotgun remains a flagship product to this day with over 12 million sold. The popularity of the Model 500 tends to obscure the fact that Mossberg made just about everything at one time or another: self-defense pistols, bolt-action, lever-action and semi-auto rifles from .22 to .450 Bushmaster, and bolt-action, pump and auto-loading shotguns from .410-gauge to 12-gauge 3½ inch. In fact, Mossberg pioneered the latter powerful chambering to the delight of turkey and goose hunters.

The Mossberg philosophy from the start was to deliver more gun for the money. With efficient design and manufacturing processes, they kept costs low and put shooting sports within the reach of people of modest means without sacrificing their products’ performance. No American, whether they drove a Cadillac or rode the bus to work, was embarrassed to say, “I shoot a Mossberg.”

Today, O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc. is America’s largest manufacturer of shotguns and, unlike other big name American gun makers, the company is still family-owned and -operated. Fourth generation Iver Mossberg is the CEO. He comes to work in their North Haven, Connecticut, headquarters every day. Unlike some corporately owned or publicly traded gun makers over the years, Mossberg’s personal dedication to defending the Second Amendment has never been questioned. Despite Connecticut’s firearms manufacturing heritage, its state legislators are predominantly, and increasingly, anti-gun. In 2014 this led Mossberg to decide against expanding their operations there and instead shifted the majority of their manufacturing facilities to gun-friendly Texas. Now only a small percentage of their manufacturing (less than 10 percent) and their administrative offices remains in anti-gun Connecticut.

LIKE A GREAT Golden Age comic book superhero, O.F. Mossberg & Sons has an amazing origin story that begins with its founder, Oscar Frederick Mossberg. Born in Sweden in a small village in 1866, he showed exceptional mechanical aptitude while still a boy and learned the boilermakers trade. Emigrating to America in 1886 in search of a better life, he saw the Statue of Liberty as his steamship sailed through New York harbor and then waited in line in the great hall at Ellis Island alongside the hundreds of other foreign-born men, women and children seeking entry to the land of opportunity. When his turn came before the uniformed customs inspector, the 20-year-old answered his questions satisfactorily and looked healthy enough to be granted entrance.

Mossberg sought work among his fellow Swedes and soon settled in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. 1892 was a major milestone for Oscar Mossberg. In that year he got married and began working at Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works, making not guns, but bicycles! The 26-year-old’s natural engineering talents were quickly noted and he soon became heavily involved in the design work that culminated in numerous patents that made Iver Johnson’s modestly priced, top-break, pocket revolvers wildly successful. His contributions, though not always under his name, were important and many sources credit him with the development of the “Hammer the Hammer” safety system, which was a major marketing feature of Iver Johnson revolvers at a time when most revolvers could be expected to discharge if dropped.

Mossberg was allowed to work on his own inventions in the factory after hours and by the time he left Iver Johnson in 1900, he already held several patents in his own name. He was a hard-working man of known talent and imagination. As a father of three, he worked for a series of New England-based firearms makers, where he continued to invent and patent. He worked for C.S. Shattuck Arms Company from 1900 to 1902, J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company until 1916, and then for the Marlin-Rockwell Corporation until 1919. At Marlin-Rockwell, Mossberg was deeply involved with machinegun production for U.S. Army contracts and designed the synchronization mechanisms that allowed the guns to fire between the blades of an aircraft’s spinning propeller. After the armistice, the company began to rapidly downsize and at 53 years old, he knew it was time for the Mossbergs to be in business for themselves. Stretching the family resources to the limit, the partnership of O.F. Mossberg and Sons was formed while Oscar and his oldest son Iver still worked at Marlin-Rockwell.

The new partnership’s first product was not a shotgun as you might guess, but the Brownie pocket pistol, designed and patented by Oscar. It was an extremely well made, four-barreled .22-caliber double action with lines that were quite advanced for the time. Around 37,000 guns were made from 1920 to 1932. During that time, Mossberg conservatively made progressive improvements to their production facilities as the availability of capital from stock sold to friends and family permitted. Increased efficiency reduced production costs and allowed them to make the Brownie more affordable by reducing its retail price nearly 50 percent.

Mossberg historians Victor and Cheryl Havlin recount in their book The History of O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. a Mossberg family story about how hard the early days of the cash-strapped company were. Despite their countless hours of hard work, the partners couldn’t always meet all their company expenses or even afford to pay themselves adequately so they needed side jobs. Brothers Iver and Harold were both musicians and had night jobs playing in an orchestra. But since they only had one tuxedo between them, they could never both perform at the same time.

AFTER BUSINESS STABILIZED in the 1920s, O.F. Mossberg and Sons was able to add long guns to their single pistol product line. They remained focused on delivering affordable quality to their customers, which put them in a position to thrive during the Great Depression. When larger, high-end gun makers saw their sales plummet, Mossberg expanded by making .22 rifles and bolt-action shotguns that average working-class people could afford to buy and shoot. Those guns put food on many a family’s table and introduced many others to the fun of shooting sports.

The Brownie pistol was O.F. Mossberg and Sons’ first official product, but it was not the first complete firearm designed by Oscar, nor his first to see production. Reviewing his patents, it’s clear he had several handgun designs, including an auto-loading pistol. Though they are over a century old, the pistols appear remarkably modern in form and illustrate his ingenious, innovative thinking.

Oscar Mossberg actually designed and manufactured his first complete pistol in 1907, 12 years before he formed O.F. Mossberg and Sons. The weapon was an imaginative and very compact double-action, .22-caliber, four-barrel palm pistol. It was fired with the barrels gripped in the web of the thumb and forefinger while the trigger was pulled with the index finger. In this manner the weapon could be discharged four times in rapid succession from inside the trouser pocket while standing, and presumably facing, a threatening ruffian. It was patented by Mossberg in 1906 as the Novelty Pistol but later marketed under the names Invisible Defender and Unique. Oscar Mossberg initially manufactured the pistol himself in the barn behind his residence with the help of his teenage sons Iver and Harold. In 1909 he sold the manufacturing rights to his former employer, C.S. Shattuck Arms Company, who manufactured the gun until 1919. Mossberg frugally set aside that money for Iver and Harold’s college education.

When his sons weren’t in school or working with him in their backyard barn gun factory, they were learning about manufacturing by working on the J. Stevens factory floor, no doubt by their father’s arrangement. Both boys graduated Worchester Polytechnical Institute. Oscar got Iver a position with Marlin-Rockwell, where he worked briefly. When younger Harold graduated, he went right to work for their newly formed family partnership.

So there you have the genesis of a great American gun maker and the great American family that founded it. The imagination and inventive spirit from which O.F. Mossberg & Sons was born continues to this day, as does their focus on giving American shooters a lot of gun for their hard-earned money. Attentiveness to the desires of the consumer is one of the secrets of Mossberg’s success and I’ll point out three recent products that exemplify that: the MC1sc 9mm pistol, MVP Precision bolt-action rifle, and the 590 Shockwave shotgun.

MC1sc 9mm Sub-Compact Pistol

Mossberg chose their 100th anniversary in 2019 to introduce their first handgun since 1919. Like the Brownie a century before, their new 9mm MC1sc is oriented to the self-defense market. The acronym stands for Mossberg-Carry-1-sub-compact and the pistol shows they’ve given a lot of thought to the features people want in a concealed carry handgun in order to challenge the immensely popular Glock 43 sub-compact 9mm head-on with an MSRP that’s $155 less. As one would expect today, the MC1sc is striker-fired and recoil-operated with a polymer frame, the usual trigger-blade safety and rated for +P ammo. It’s every bit as lean gun as the Glock 43 sub-compact at barely an inch wide at its thickest point and 6.25 inches long, and it has features and factory options the Glock doesn’t.

The MC1sc is a sleeker gun and fully dehorned for a fast and unfettered draw. In addition to rounding all the corners, Mossberg fitted it with rugged steel (not polymer!), low-profile, three-dot, drift-adjustable sights. The dovetail size matches the SIG #8 pattern, which allows users a wide range of sight choices if the Mossberg standard or factory optional Tru-glo tritium night sights don’t suit their tastes. It’s also available with a factory installed Viridian targeting laser that fits snuggly beneath the barrel.

The MC1sc comes with a pair of different Mossberg, indestructible, Clear-Count transparent polymer magazines that allow instant visual assessment of ammo supply when dropping the magazine. The compact six-round magazine fits flush with the bottom of the grip and the seven-round magazine includes a grip extending floor plate. (Fully loaded with six rounds and one in the chamber, it weighs 22 ounces, which is slightly more than an ounce heavier than the 6+1 capacity Glock 43.)

The MC1sc has some ergonomic advantages as well. The shooter’s grip is enhanced by aggressively textured grip panels, a palm swell, two subtle finger grooves on the front strap, and sculpting of the frame to slim it down immediately behind the triggerguard. The slide has front and rear gripping serrations. Control of the excellent six-pound trigger pull during its half inch of travel is enhanced by flat trigger face. Like the Glock, the MC1sc magazine release can be switched around for left-handed shooters. Unlike the Glock, there is a factory optional cross-bolt safety.

Knowing that many firearms accidents result from negligent discharges during cleaning, Mossberg designed the MC1sc to be field stripped without ever needing to touch, much less pull, the trigger. It’s called the Safe Takedown System and Oscar Mossberg, who spent a lot of time designing guns to be safer, would have been delighted by it.

The MC1sc build and material quality is top-notch. The gun comes only in a business-like black, the stainless steel slide and barrel protected by DLC (Diamond Like Coating). It runs reliably, shoots straight, and its online pricing is running about $100 lower than the $425 MSRP. Extra magazines are less than $20 too. The MC1sc is a lot more gun for the money. IIf you already have a Glock 43, the Mossberg can use its magazines and holsters too.

MVP Precision Bolt-Action Rifle

In the realm of rifles, Mossberg sensed an unmet consumer desire for a centerfire bolt-action rifle’s accuracy with the magazine capacity of a modern sporting rifle, and engineers created their versatile MVP line with that functionality in mind. The common features shared by all the MVP rifles are: the ability to feed from standard AR-15 magazines (.308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO caliber rifles feed from any M14, LR-3 and SR-25 magazines), suppressor or muzzle device ready threaded muzzles, and a user-adjustable trigger pull weight from 3 to 7 patented by Mossberg as the Lightning Bolt Action Trigger (LBA). The MVP rifle comes in six basic models: Predator, LR (Long Range) Scout, Patrol, LC (Light Chassis) and Precision rifle. Each configuration has additional unique features to enhance it for its intended application and/or customize it to the shooter.

The MVP Precision is the 1,000-meter, needle slender, heavy weight, long-range, tack driver of the line designed for competition and target shooters and chambered in popular 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO, and now, for the first time, .224 Valkyrie. These rifles use medium weight bull barrels fluted for extra rigidity and tip the scales at 10 pounds for the 24-inch 6.5mm Creedmoor and 9.2 pounds for the 20-inch-long 7.62mm NATO and .224 Valkyrie. Mossberg designed the polymer and aluminum stock chassis with its long, hexagonal, slim profiled, free-float, front handguard with M-LOK cuts its full length on all sides for the easy and solid mounting of a wide range of aftermarket accessories (bi-bod, sling-swivel base, light, etc.). The triggerguard is enlarged and the bolt is heavily scalloped on the underside for clearance when wearing gloves. A single run of Picatinny rail bridges the top of the action from end to end, providing ample space for optics while maintaining perfect alignment with two-piece mounts. Not to re-invent the wheel, the MVP Precision utilizes Magpul’s MOE+ pistol grip and 10-round PMAG magazine, and Luth-AR’s excellent MBA three position buttstock with adjustments for length of pull, cast and comb height. The MSRP is $1,400 and online retail was as low as $850.

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590 Shockwave Pump Action Firearm

Compact shotguns have always been attractive, if not practical, options for close-quarters defense. Prior to 2017, the most compact ones that didn’t require NFA registration had a vertical pistol grip and were no shorter than 26 inches in overall length with the legally required 18-inch barrel. They were murder on the wrist in addition to being hard to aim.

Mossberg’s recent Shockwave family of pump action firearms, based on the 590 shotgun action, changes all that. The Shockwaves are still just over the legally required minimum 26-inch length, but they are much less abusive to the wrist because they utilize a long, birdshead-style grip made by Shockwave Industries. Having a longer grip, and not ever having been fitted with a buttstock, a weapon of this type didn’t fit the legal definition of an NFA firearm and could be manufactured with a shorter barrel, as long as overall length was at least 26 inches. Thus, because of its longer grip, the 590 Shockwave can have a shorter barrel of 14.3 inches long. Mossberg was the first major firearms maker to create a product line specifically to take advantage of this.

The shorter barreled Shockwave is much handier on the business end than the old style 18-inch-barreled shotguns and it requires no NFA registration or tax stamp. A 14-inch barrel also puts your pumping hand uncomfortably close to the muzzle so all Shockwaves come equipped with a retention strap on the forend that you slip your fingers through to hold them out of harm’s way. They also use a heavy walled barrel like the standard 590 and have Mossberg’s familiar and convenient sliding safety on the tang. The 14.3-inch-barreled, 12-, 20- and .410-gauge Shockwaves use a tubular magazine with a five-round capacity with 2¾-inch shells (four rounds with 3-inch shells).

For the most firepower for your buck, the 590M Shockwave is designed to feed from Mossberg’s patented detachable box magazines available in 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-round capacities. The Mossberg magazine is by far the best designed and most rugged on the market, made of polymer and steel with a solid lock up in the receiver, ambidextrous release, and a surprisingly compact size because the shells are double stacked.

Because it acts like a lever, the Shockwave grip is much easier to support and fire one-handed than the old vertical pistol grip. However, realistically, one-handed shooting is less than ideal with a five-pound firearm packing this kind of punch. Aiming from the hip or chest provides better accuracy, but the Shockwave, like its vertical pistol-grip predecessors, was still of limited practical use beyond extreme close range. Fortunately, there was a game-changing solution near at hand in the Crimson Trace Laser Saddle sight, which is now a factory installed option.

Crimson Trace saw that laser sighting was the Shockwave’s missing component and designed a sight for the application. Mossberg agreed and was instantly on board. The red laser dot takes the guesswork out of aiming the Shockwave when held in positions that don’t permit sighting over the barrel. In other words, all the positions that you would be able to best control it and keep control of it in a dangerous encounter. With the laser sight, the 590 Shockwave is a formidably accurate and powerful tool of self-defense that can be effectively brought to bear by a person with minimal firearms experience or training. Home invaders beware!

The Crimson Trace Laser Saddle fits closely over the receiver, has three activation touch pads, is fully adjustable for windage and elevation, and has a long battery life extended by its timed automatic shut-off feature. It also fits any Mossberg 500 or 590 series shotgun. The 590 Shockwave has several other factory options, like a five-round extra shell carrier, breecher muzzle, barrel heat shield, 18-inch barrel, Picatinny rail, and even a chainsaw-style foregrip. The MSRP on the 12-gauge 590 Shockwave is $455 without the Crimson Trace Laser Saddle, and $595 with it. Online retail is more like $300 and $450, respectively.

Story by Frank Jardim
Photos by O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc.

Editor’s note: For more information on Mossberg products, contact your local firearms retailer or visit mossberg.com.