In 1954, less than a decade after World War II veteran Jack First made it back home from deadly fighting on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific, he started a small gun shop in Lancaster, Calif. As had many returning G.I.s, First decided to make a name for himself in the burgeoning sporting markets that were to define the postwar era. In his case, that came after identifying a need for quicker customer service in supplying parts to gunsmiths. First started out by carrying new factory parts. When he needed one for himself, he would order an extra to keep it in stock. Soon, he became known as a quicker source than the factories themselves. By the 1980s, he realized that the factories could not supply obsolete parts, so he started keeping samples and disassembling guns to save parts as patterns. Over time, he amassed about 14,000 parts that were meticulously cataloged and stored for making duplicates that were produced in-house. First successfully gained a name for himself by shortening the time it took for gunsmiths to fix customers’ rifles, shotguns and handguns.
After four successful decades in California, First and his wife, Phyllis, moved the business to Rapid City, S.D., where today it still offers fast service to professional gunsmiths and average tinkerers alike. Of course, a few things have changed—the three-volume, 9-lb. paper catalog the company used to mail out has given way to a thumb drive—but personalized customer service is still provided by four ladies in the sales department whose collective 150 years of experience equips them to answer customers’ technical and order inquiries by phone and pack and ship out orders. In addition, five machinists bring to bear 130 years of combined experience as they craft the current massive inventory of gun parts using vertical CNC machine centers, a Swiss screw machine, CNC and manual Hardinge and South Bend lathes, Bridgeport vertical mills, a manual spring coiler, a wire EDM machine and other equipment. Parts are heat-treated and blued in-house to standards that often surpass those of the originals, and examples of components the company makes include: the internal extractor for pre-1962 Browning High Power pistols; the Dutch Beaumont bolt-action rifle extractor and ejector; the slide stop for .32 ACP and .380 ACP Hungarian Femaru pistols; the Frommer Stop extractor for .32 ACP and .380 ACP models; and a front sight for both .32 ACP and .380 ACP Colt Model “M” pistols.
Jack First worked part-time at the current shop until his passing in 2017 at age 95. Today, his daughter, Nancy; grandson, Brian; and great-grandson—the fourth generation of Firsts named, you guessed it, Jack—are continuing to keep the family business on track. For more, please visit jackfirstinc.com.