“Dad, I never thought I would get to see the inside of this place until I get to work here.” Those words were to a father in his 30s, proudly wearing a shirt that bore the name of his company, Federal Ammunition, as he led his son through the area where he works, drawing brass cups essential to making a cartridge case. He was holding his young son’s hand and pointing out the various machines, which briefly stood motionless, and explaining what they do. I would’ve liked to have gotten both their names for the story, but it was a special moment I just could not interrupt. Call me a bad reporter, if you must. I can take it.
According to Federal‘s President and CEO Jason Vanderbrink, the one day the company celebrated its 100th anniversary was the first time the factory had ever been shut down. Ever. Since Charles Horn bought a defunct shotshell factory in 1922 to produce tubes for BBs, the machines have always run. From its humble beginnings, it has become the largest commercial ammunition manufacturer in the world. That plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and three shifts. But not on June 18 of this year. There was a silence that was palpable. I’ve been through this factory multiple times during my more than 30-year career. The stillness was deafening and disquieting. If you’ve ever been in an ammunition plant, especially a big one, you know that the last thing it would be is quiet.
This was quite a celebration—and it was all for the employees. Vanderbrink is not only a leader who know every operation under one of the biggest roofs in the business, but a man of boundless energy. He’s a good boss who knows hundreds of his workers by name. When you walk through a plant and see top management interact with the employees, you can tell pretty quickly whether they think he’s doing a great job or not. Judging from what the faces of his workforce told me, he’s doing a great job.
He wanted the opportunity for the Federal family to be able to celebrate this milestone. It only happens once. To have their parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, get a chance to see where their family members go to work every day.
And it’s quite a family. From the shape of the town hall to the various charities it supports, Federal is a keystone in the community of Anoka, Minn. With the live and silent auction items, $225,000 was raised for two local charities.
Around 4,200 people came through Federal’s doors that day, including Lee Greenwood and Ted Nugent, who performed for the assembled crowd. Sadly, due to airline disruptions, I didn’t get to stay to see them perform. Nor did I get to ride any of the rides that were meant for the children. Or hit the bouncy house. A couple of other honored guest include two Medal of Honor recipients, SFC Sammy Davis, an Army soldier from Vietnam, as well as one from Afghanistan, S/Sgt. Clinton Romesha. If you saw “The Outpost," you know part of his story. And you should read the stories of these men and their courage. Who better to address the Federal family about leadership and patriotism?
I met briefly with the CEO of Vista Outdoor, Chris Metz. He was wearing a T-shirt that bore not only the Federal logo, but a depiction of the Ukrainian flag that read “I need ammo, not a ride.” Federal’s employees raised $100,000 for crisis relief for Ukrainian civilians, one $20 T-shirt at a time. And believe me, they sent ammo, too. In its first century, Federal has gone from an upstart, with the company founder literally selling ammunition to gas stations out of his trunk, to the largest commercial ammunition maker in the world. They do it all there: shotshells, rimfire, centerfire rifle and centerfire pistol.
The strength of this company is its people. I have friends at Federal that have worked there for more than 30 years, as did their fathers, uncles and even grandfathers at times. During World War II, much of the workforce was made up of women at the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Depot run by Federal–the grandmothers and great-grandmothers of those who work there today.
It’s an incredible success story. American workers who take pride in what they do, and management that makes sure those workers have the tools and materials they need to do the job. No doubt it cost money to shut down the company for a day, but it was for the people of Federal that Vanderbrink made the decision to hold a very special event for a very special workforce. In July, we will have a two-part series on “American Rifleman Television” on Federal’s 100th anniversary, and you can see for yourself those people hard at work making literally millions of rounds of ammunition every day.
Happy Birthday, Federal. Here’s to your next century.