John Mahlon Marlin was born in Connecticut in 1836. His career started as an apprentice tool and die maker and he worked as a machinist with American Machine Works. During the Civil War, John worked at the Colt manufacturing plant and in 1863 he started manufacturing single shot pistols in New Haven, Connecticut. He founded his own company, Marlin Firearms Company in 1870. Marlin was making derringers and revolvers and then expanded into producing other firearm designs from there. The post war turbulence made small concealable handguns a desirable choice for self-protection and in turn, Marlin sold a lot of those types of firearms. Marlin took over production of the Ballard single shot rifle in 1875, which was popular with hunters and sportsman. Production of the Ballard rifle was discontinued in 1891.
Marlin started manufacturing their first lever action repeating rifle in 1881, thus its designation, the Model 1881. The Model 1881 utilized a tubular magazine and was chambered in such calibers as .32-40 and .45-70 Government. Marlin was now competitive with Winchester in the lever action rifle market.
Many folks think of the Wild West guns as being primarily Colts and Winchesters, but it would be a mistake to not include Marlin firearms on the list. The Marlin Fire Arms Company really started making a name for themselves after producing the Model 1891 (currently the Model 39) and the Model 1893 (currently the Model 336). The Model 1891 was actually the first lever action rifle to be chambered for the .22 LR rimfire cartridge.
Annie Oakley, the famous exhibition shooter, used the Model 1891 to display her shooting talents. On March 10, 1893 Annie used her 1891 rifle to place 25 shots through one hole in an Ace of Hearts in just 27 seconds while shooting off-hand. To commemorate Annie Oakley, Marlin manufactured two special runs of Model 39A rifles in 1998 and 2000. I would sure like to have one of those rifles to give to my girlfriend so she could master some trick shots!
After improving on the top ejecting Model 1888, the Model 1889 was introduced, Marlin’s first lever action rifle to have the side ejection feature. Marlin continued to improve their lever action designs, coming out with the previously mentioned .22 rimfire Model 1891. Next came the Model 1893 and then the Model 1894 went into production. The Model 1894 was designed and patented by L.L. Hepburn and that rifle is still being manufactured and sold to this day. Marlin then produced the .22 rimfire Model 1897 rifle.
Before John Marlin died in 1901, the company started manufacturing pump action shotguns in 1898 with the, yep you guessed it, Model 1898, which was a takedown shotgun. If you ever run across one of these old and beautiful pump shotguns, do not shoot it loaded with modern ammunition containing smokeless powder! These old shotguns were made to fire black powder cartridges and it is simply not safe to use cartridges loaded with smokeless propellants! In 1907, the Model 16 shotgun replaced the 1898 and was sold with either 26” or 28” barrels and they were available in four grades, A, B, C and D, with D being the highest grade. This line of shotguns continued with the Model 17 (basic 12 gauge) and the Model 19 (fine grade of wood and engraving). All of these models were discontinued in 1910.
In 1907, the Model 21 straight gripped Walnut stocked shotguns debuted and introduced a better extraction system. One year later, in 1908, the Model 24 (pistol grip stock) was upgraded to include a recoil lock to prevent the gun from accidentally firing. The Model 26 and the Model 30 shotguns followed and were in production until the beginning of World War I. In 1913, the 12 gauge Model 28 went into production and it used a striker rather than a hammer to touch off the shells, thus changing the look of the receiver. After the war ended, Marlin came out with a continuing line of shotguns until 1933. These included the Model 31, the 42A which used the old type of external hammer, the 43A, the 44 (20 gauge), 53, and 63.
In 1936, Sears wanted to compete with the Winchester Model 21 and the Browning Superposed double barrel shotguns, so they asked Marlin to manufacture an affordable version. An inventor named Ole Horsrud designed the shotgun for Sears and Marlin agreed to manufacture it. The Sears models of this shotgun were marked as Ranger before WWII and J.C. Higgins after the war. Marlin marketed the shotgun as the Model 90, it was discontinued in 1959.
In order to compete with Remington and Mossberg, in 1971, Marlin manufactured the Model 120 (also named the Glenfield 778) pump shotgun. There is one more shotgun I would like to mention, and that is the Model 200, which is essentially a “Topper” shotgun. Marlin manufactured this single shot pivot barrel shotgun when they bought H&R 1871(Harrington & Richardson) in 2000.
Well, that wraps up my Marlin shotgun history. The Freedom Group/Remington now owns Marlin, so we probably won’t see the next latest and greatest shotgun come from the Marlin camp!
John’s sons, Mahlon and John ran the business after their father died. Marlin bought the Ideal Cartridge Reloading Company from John H. Barlow in 1910, but only a few years later, Marlin sold the company. However they continued to produce the Ideal Reloading handbook until William Lyman bought Ideal in 1925. By this time, Marlin had been sold and became Marlin-Rockwell Corporation (MRC) in 1915.
Marlin-Rockwell Corp. manufactured the 1895 Colt Light Machine Gun after they bought the tooling, patents and rights to manufacture the weapon from Colt. Marlin then began to manufacture the 1917 Marlin .30 light machine gun. The M1917 was an air-cooled, gas operated machine gun which loaded from a 250 round belt and had a cyclic rate of around 650 rounds per minute. The M1917 was used on light tanks with a tripod mount. A Marlin employee, named Carl Gustave Swebilius, designed the weapon. The M1918 included some design modifications to the M1917, including some aluminum parts and it was primarily used in aircraft because it functioned well with interrupter gearing that allowed the gun to be fired without hitting the propeller blades. These old M1917 and M1918 light machine guns were used again by the United States during WWII by the Coast Guard Reserve Corsair Navy and some were sent to Great Britain for their Home Guard to use.
Since Marlin-Rockwell was now successfully fulfilling military contracts, the company was contracted to manufacture 20,000 BAR rifles (Browning Automatic Rifle). Though very few of these Marlin-Rockwell BARs saw action in WWI, they were later used by British and American forces in WWII. The United States also used the Marlin-Rockwell BAR rifles in the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.
Marlin also manufactured the M42 submachine gun for use in WWII. The M42 was designed by United Defense and was chambered in 9 x 19mm and some prototypes were chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. This select fire straight blowback weapon was used by; the United States, China, Italy, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Czechoslovakia. Marlin was also contracted to manufacture various parts and barrels for the Garand rifle and M1 Carbine during this time period as well as during the Korean War.
After WWI ended, the Marlin went back to producing civilian guns. In the early 1920s, the company name was changed to Marlin Firearms Corporation until the company went into receivership. Frank Kenna took control of the company, purchased Marlin’s assets and struggled through the Great Depression. Sometime in 1969, Marlin moved all of their manufacturing from New Haven to North Haven, Connecticut. The Kenna family ran the Marlin Firearms Company until Remington bought the company in 2008.
My favorite Marlin rifle is still the Model 336. After my brother Larry died, I took possession of his 336. It is one of my favorite guns to shoot. The design of the Model 336 has its roots in the Model 1893 and the Model 36. The 336 was introduced in 1948 and it is still being manufactured. It has been chambered in many different calibers, but my choice is still the .30-30. There are many old Marlin firearms I would like to have in my collection as well as some of their new guns. To pick which Marlin rifle that you would like to purchase, visit their website at (https://www.marlinfirearms.com).