The Steyr Mannlicher Company
(A brief history of Steyr Mannlicher, AG)

While the Steyr-Mannlicher brand is well know in European shooting circles it has not been well known here in the United States until recently. The following is some background and historical information on the company that has brought shooters around the world the SSG, the AUG, and the Steyr Scout Rifle, and has been excerpted from official Steyr documents.

A Brief History of Steyr Mannlicher

The company had its beginnings on 16 April, 1864 when Josef Werndl founded the company known as Josef und Franz Werndl & Company Waffenfabrik und Sägemühle in Oberletten (Josef and Franz Werndl & Partners, Weapons Factory and Sawmill in Oberletten). From this parent company eventually emerged the firms of "Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft" (Austrian Arms Manufacturing Company), and subsequently the companies Steyr Werke AG, Steyr-Daimler Puch AG and the today's group subsidiary Steyr Mannlicher.

Werndl and his technical director Karl Holub submitted their concept of a reliable, simple and at the same time inexpensive breechloader to the central military administrative authority who decided to procure the rifle. On 28 July, 1867 Werndl got the order to produce 100,000 rifles in caliber 11.15mm. By autumn of the same year, the order was increased by an additional 150,000 pieces.

In order to be able to complete this large volume order it was necessary to expand the production plant and to increase the number of employees at the factory. In course of this project, the Österreichische Waffenfarbriksgesellschaft (Austrian Arms Manufacturing Company) a joint stock company was formed. The following period was characterized by a rapid increase in arms production. Werndl succeeded extremely well in establishing business connections abroad, and as a result received many orders from different countries. During this period the factory employed up to 6,000 workers and the weekly production reached 8,000 rifles.

However, during 1877 demand dropped and while the company continued to produce rifles for various contracts a sluggish period in the company’s history began. In 1885, the company developed the "Mannlicher System" repeating rifle which was notable for its straight pull-locking design and in-line 5 round magazine. This new rifle, the 11mm Mannlicher 1886, brought renewed prosperity to the company and once again it began to receive orders from around the world.

With its new repeater and the great reputation of the arms factory for the precision of its products, the interchangeability of parts, and its high production capacity, the company received a many large-scale-orders. By 1889 the number of workers employed at the factory exceeded 10,000.

Josef Werndl died unexpectedly from pneumonia on 29 April, 1889. Werndl's long-standing and dogged negotiations with clients from foreign countries came to full fruition only after his death. After the turn of century, the company acquired the exclusive producing and selling rights for the Schwarzlose machine gun. This acquisition put the company in the position of being the prime supplier and large quantities of this machine gun were sold to nearly every European country and to many foreign countries.

An even more important acquisition was the exclusive production and selling rights of a firearm designed by the two designers, Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher and Otto Schönauer. This rifle was marketed as the world famous Mannlicher-Schönauer Hunting Rifle which was famous for its durability, reliability, and attractive design.

The facilities of the military arms branch of Steyr could not meet the needs of modern arms production, so a new location had to be found. It was decided to utilize the Plattner-grounds in the district of Ennsleiten in Steyr. There, a new and ultramodern weapons factory was built from scratch within a period of only two years (1912 - 1914), and the resulting production capacity was the equal of any arms producer in the world.

The number of workers at the factory rose to more than 15,000 and Steyr became the most important arms manufacturing site in Central Europe.

In spite of all of its armament business during World War I the company had enough foresight to realize that they needed to be productive and profitable after the end of the war. With this in mind they bought up the "Austrian Fiaker Automobil Gesellschaft" (Austrian Cab-Automobile Company) (ÖFAG)" in Vienna.

At the end of World War I (1918), the arms factory was on the verge of ruin because of the peace treaty of Saint Germain, that practically prohibited any arms production. In this critical period, the firm’s management was able to use their acquisition of ÖFAG and productively switch from weapons production to the production of vehicles thus keeping the company financially solvent.

When the provisions of the treaty of Saint Germain were finally loosened a bit, they began to look for a new partner for the traditional weapons production in Steyr. This search resulted in a partnership with the arms factory Solothum AG . This almost unknown arms factory from Switzerland was looking for partner help it expand into the international market. Their partnership gave fresh impetus to weapons production in Steyr and gave the Swiss company a high profile, world famous brand name.

The period between the two world wars that shows clearly that in the 130 years of company history the company had many periods of great success but also had periods full decline. Despite all difficulties, the old "spirit of Steyr" has prevailed--that spirit of determination to be successful--which had in the days of Josef Werndl helped the old Steyr overcome whatever setbacks it encountered as it grew.

After Austria's union with the German Empire, the period of independent production of sporting and military firearms came to a virtual halt. In Steyr, and in the many other smaller firearms production plants, sporting arms production was redirected to the production of standardized military rifles, ammunition, caterpillar tractors, all terrain vehicles, team transport vehicles, plane motors, tank parts, etc., for the German war machine.

After the war the resumption of civil production was attempted but failed, however, due to the enormous air-raid-damage, the dismantling of the works by the Russian occupying forces in 1945, and by armaments production restrictions imposed by the Allied powers similar to those imposed in the period after 1918. It wasn’t until 1950 that Steyr was able to start producing hunting rifles with the approval of the US high-commissioner, General Mark Clark. With production again allowed, Steyr began to manufactured the well-known Mannlicher-Schönauer hunting carbines and small-bore rifles anew.

When the Austrian Armed Forces were reinitialized the production of military weapons started again. The first military rifle produced was 7.62mm STG58 (basically the "FN FAL") which was manufacture under a FN (Belgium) license.

In 1987 the parent company, Steyr-Daimler Puch AG, decided to set up small arms production as a separate, independent company known as Steyr Mannlicher AG, keeping the world renown Steyr-Mannlicher trade name.

Under the Steyr-Mannlicher name a new series of firearms came to life. The well known 5.56mm NATO STG77 (AUG) assault rifle was developed and manufactured, and Steyr has enjoyed tremendous success with the AUG and has granted production licenses to Australia and Malaysia. Another success story was the famous SSG series of sniper rifles which even today have an enviable reputation for accuracy.

At the same time a general decline in the sales of hunting rifles in Europe started to show up due to a decrease of hunting possibilities, and also because of the imposition of highly restrictive laws and regulations. However, even in the face of this decline Steyr Mannlicher hunting weapons continued to sell fairly well worldwide.

With the realization that it would be unlikely to expect to continue or increase the current production levels of hunting weapons Steyr Mannlicher decided to begin production of a line of competition weapons. In 1987, after a short period of research and development the Steyr LG87 Match Air Rifle was launched on the market and sold fairly well.

However, Steyr Mannlicher finally made its breakthrough in competition weapons only when the revolutionary LP1 Steyr Match Air Pistol was brought to market. By continual refining its line of competition airguns the company has created an additional profitable branch of weapons production in Steyr.

With increasing demand for its competition and also its military firearms the company moved to new facilities at the present location at Mannlicherstraße 1 in 1992.

In order to once again offer a complete range of firearms Steyr Mannlicher acquired the majority holding of Suhler Jagd und Sportwaffen, GmbH (Suhler Hunting and Sporting Weapons Company) in Suhl, Germany in January 1994 and in July of 1994 Steyr Mannlicher achieved the ISO 9001 Quality Certificate award.

Firearms from Steyr have always been know for their high quality and Steyr continues to be committed to this tradition and to the important historical role played by weapons production at Steyr, Austria.

In June of 1996, in keeping with this tradition Steyr Mannlicher brought to the market a new and innovative hunting rifle, the Mannlicher SBS96 - based on the Steyr SBS96 system (Safe Bolt System), which utilizes modern front locking lugs instead of the traditional Mannlicher rear lugs. The main features of this new hunting rifle are its safety, quality, precision and attractive functional design. The Steyr SBS96, the Steyr SBS96 ProHunter, the Steyr SBS96 Forester, and the new SS96 Steyr Scout variations were developed particularly for the American market.

The Mannlicher SBS96 series, was honored by two magazines, Deutsches Waffen Journal and Visier, and with the "Flint 96" and "Volltreffer 96" prizes for innovation.

By utilizing innovative design, modern materials, and modern manufacturing methods, weapons from Steyr continue to enjoy worldwide fame, thereby helping to secure the future of the Steyr company. Innovation and tradition in combination with the highest quality continue to be the strong points of the products from Steyr Mannlicher.

For biographical sketches of the men associated with the foundation of Steyr Mannlicher click here.

The Steyr Mannlicher Logo is the trademark of Steyr Mannlicher AG and is used with their permission.

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Updated 2005-10-13 @ 1130