By the turn of the 20th century the riflescope was not entirely unheard of in both target shooting and hunting. J. Stevens Arms and Tool Co. introduced a line of scopes in the early 1900s. In 1909 Winchester brought out a line of riflescopes. Both were later sold to Lyman.
In the 1920s many European scope makers were importing into the U.S., but the scopes were expensive and didn’t catch on with the American market. In addition to the Winchester and Stevens scopes, those made in the United States by J.W. Fecker were popular with American shooters. Fecker employed a man by the name of John Unertl, who in 1934 started his own scope company. It’s likely that Noske scopes were considered the best of the domestics in the 1930s. Elmer Keith was quoted as saying, “To Rudolf Noske goes the credit for making the first good American hunting glass.”
But, even with all this progress, scopes still were not the predominant rifle sighting system for mainstream hunters. They were too expensive, fragile and unreliable.
It took a visionary to make the riflescope mainstream. Henry Ford may have parked a car in every driveway, but it was William R. Weaver who put a scope on every rifle. He did this by following the simple template for success in American business. He gave people a high-quality product at an affordable price.
Before Weaver introduced his Model 3-30 scope in 1930, the options were limited. American shooters could have a Zeiss for $70, or an American-built Noske for $50. Neither included a mount, which added significantly to the price. Considering that the average annual income was $1,368, spending a couple of week’s worth of wages on a scope was not an option for most hunters.
The Weaver 3-30 scope, complete with a mount, sold for $19 (about $230 in today’s money). Suddenly gun racks up and down Main Street America were filling with scoped hunting rifles. By 1934 Weaver was selling his Model 329 scope with a choice of mounts for $4.75. In that same year, Weaver also offered the Model 333 scope for .22 rimfire and .22 Hornet rifles for $7.75. The 4X Model 344 was a whopping $8. Both came with a mount.
The Beginning of Weaver
Weaver designed and made all his own tooling and did all the manufacturing work for his scopes on-site. Weaver ground his own lenses, machined the steel, blued the parts and even made the mounts in his shop on Water Works Road in Newport, Ky. During his tenure he never wavered on insisting that everything in his products be 100 percent made in America.
In 1933 Weaver and two helpers loaded a truck and moved the shop to El Paso, Texas. His first shop was on Main and Campbell streets. He moved to the other side of town in 1936, employed 50 workers, and in 1939 moved again to expand enough to meet demand. In 1940 they built a new factory at 1800 First St. In just a decade Weaver had grown to become the largest producer of riflescopes in the world.
The year 1964 saw the construction of a new 10,000 sq.-ft., air-conditioned factory. Weaver employed more than 600 people by the late 1960s and was making more than half the scopes built in America.
His first scope, the 3-30, was made from 1930 until 1947 and featured a 2.75X magnification with a 35-foot field of view at 100 yards. The eye relief was 3.5 inches, the length 10.5 inches and the weight 10.25 ounces. The tube diameter was 3/4 inch, and it was even offered with 1/4-minute click adjustments. By 1933 a 4X model called the 4-40 was introduced, soon followed by the “less than five bucks scope,” the 3-29.
Weaver supplied 36,000 scopes and sights to the military during World War II and so was able to seamlessly return to making scopes for sportsmen after the war ended, in contrast to many of its competitors.
Based on developments made for the military, in 1947 Weaver produced the K2.5X and K4X scopes with 1-inch-diameter tubes. They soon became the most popular. The idea of a 1-inch tube caught on and even today is the standard among American sport shooters. It allowed a bigger, brighter picture without a significant increase in weight. Actually—at 9.25 ounces—the K4 was significantly lighter than many of its predecessors. The K4 Weaver might well be the most famous scope ever produced. It is certainly one of the most successful, and undoubtedly a trend-setter for American riflescope design.
In 1948 the K6 was added to the lineup. In 1950 the K8, K10 and the variable 2.75-5X KV were added. The K10X was groundbreaking for varmint and target shooters and, of course, the concept of a variable-power scope was a prelude to the standard that remains even today.
In 1956, Weaver introduced a constantly centered reticle, which was another huge leap forward in riflescope design. Weaver continued this trend of constant innovation and introductions all through the 1960s, which might have been part of the problem. Weaver was having growing pains and experiencing difficulty with the cost of expansion. He was forced to sell the company to Olin Corp. in 1968.
In 1970 Weaver introduced the Classic Series, featuring anodized aluminum tubes with non-removable eyepieces. It was the first departure from the steel tubes that made Weaver famous. This trend of new models continued through the following decade with more new models than can be listed here.
Bill Weaver died on Nov. 8, 1975, at the age of 75, and by the mid-1980s the company was foundering. It is noteworthy that in 1982 Weaver entered the handgun scope market with the P2S. The “S” stands for stainless steel, which was another first for the company. Competition from offshore makers and some American competitors was eroding its market share, and in 1984 Weaver closed its doors. Many thought this was the end of a great American gun industry legend. In many ways it was.
But great names in the gun industry typically have a bit of Phoenix in them, and they often rise from the ashes in rebirth. That happened to Weaver four years later. In 1988, Omark Industries of Lewiston, Idaho, a division of Blount, took over operations and reintroduced Weaver riflescopes. Although the legendary El Paso-made, steel-tube Weaver scopes were gone forever, the Weaver name lived on with a line of imported scopes.
View the 80 Years of Weaver Scopes Photo Gallery
The quality of imported scopes was getting much better. With inexpensive labor in Asia, the prices remained low. At the same time in America, rising labor costs, taxes and regulations were making it hard to produce high-quality scopes for a budget price. Weaver, perhaps by accident, was again leading a major shift in the riflescope market direction. While the new Weavers were of far better quality than what we had often expected from imported Asian scopes at that time, the price was reasonable. They didn’t try to compete with the top-of-the-line American or European scopes, but rather carved out a mid-market niche with an excellent price-to-quality ratio.
I remember testing some of the new Weaver scopes from that era and being very pleased with their durability and optical quality. Of course they could not compete with the best American or European scopes, but those scopes, in turn, could not compete with Weaver on price. The Weavers were much better than some of the other imports at the time, and they followed the long Weaver tradition of affordability.
Blount’s outdoor companies were acquired by ATK in 2001 and in 2002 ATK sold off its optics holdings, including Redfield, Simmons and Weaver, to Meade Instruments. ATK, however, kept the rings and mounts part of the company, including Weaver mounting products.