Behind the scenes: The Crosman Corporation
- Credit: Archant
Our US correspondent, Stephen Archer, takes us behind the scenes of the American giant
Little did I know when we moved to the USA that I’d be living only 15 miles from the headquarters of the Crosman Corporation - the largest airgun manufacturer in the country and a giant in the industry. So, it seemed obvious for me to visit the company on behalf of Airgun World to bring you the scoop on this airgun powerhouse.
When I suggested the idea to Terry Doe, his reply was an immediate. “Get on down there right now, mate!” I took that as positive encouragement and grabbed my camera.
The Crosman story
Crosman has been a fixture of the Rochester, New York, area for nearly 180 years, although not as an airgun company at first. Back in 1838, when Rochester was still on the wild frontier of New York State, only 15 years after the battle of Waterloo and before Queen Victoria ascended to the British throne, a certain Fred Crosman founded a seed company in the city. Amazingly, the Crosman Seed Company is still alive and well, and operating successfully in the area.
In 1923, Bertram Fenner, then the Operations Manager of the Crosman Brothers Seed Company, reached an agreement with one William McLean to produce pellets and an air rifle based on McLean’s designs. In 1924 the Crosman Rifle Company was formed and, with several changes of name and ownership since, has become the company we know today as Crosman Corporation.
Over time, Crosman has grown from a six-person company in 1940, to the huge corporation we see today. In 1992, Crosman acquired Benjamin Sheridan - another major US airgun manufacturer and cemented its position as by far the largest American manufacturer of airguns. Of course, the ‘Benjamin’ name is now used as the brand for Crosman’s adult hunting and high-performance models.
From the early days, Crosman specialised in multi-pump and CO2-powered airguns. This line of development has been pretty well unbroken to the current day, with the addition of PCP models and break-barrel air rifles.
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The company today
In 1971, Crosman moved to a large, new, purpose-built location in the rural village of East Bloomfield. This has been the company’s headquarters and manufacturing centre ever since, and if you think Crosman’s headquarters of 250,000 square feet is big - it really is!
You also then need to add a huge, separate Finished Goods warehouse a few miles away that itself is certainly as large as any other in the airgun industry. Well over 200 people work at Crosman, and like many companies with seasonal swings in manufacturing, the number varies with manufacturing demand.
Both Crosman, as a corporation, and its employees are very proud of the fact that the majority of its products are actually manufactured in the USA. Like any large manufacturing operation, Crosman sources products from multiple suppliers in different countries. For example, it makes no sense for it to manufacture the screws and ‘O’ rings used in its guns – no-one else does, either – but it designs most products in-house and manufactures many parts, too, including barrels, breeches and pressure tubes.
Yes, there are Chinese-manufactured Crosman (and Benjamin) airguns, and these are mainly the spring-piston and gas-ram break-barrel models, but even here, the company has been steadily bringing assembly back to the USA over recent years, on a model-by-model basis.
Crosman’s longest-running model – the 760 Pumpmaster multi-pump air rifle – has always been manufactured in-house. Since 1966, 17 million 760s have been sold in the USA and, incredibly, every one is test-fired before shipping to ensure quality control.
There are not many airgunners in the US who have not owned a 760 in their youth, and had their enthusiasm for airguns fired by it. Even more remarkably, the price has always been about $30 and still is at our local Walmart. I just don’t know how they do it!
The Benjamin Marauder, long the most popular PCP air rifle in the US, is also manufactured in the East Bloomfield factory, and again, every one is tested for accuracy and muzzle velocity before it’s shipped out.
The corporation is proudly represented in the UK by the famous ASI company, and Crosman produces about 1.1 million airguns every year, claiming to be the US market leader in numbers of airguns sold. With numbers like that, and given what I’ve seen for myself, I’m ready to believe it.
There’s much more than airguns!
Although airguns are the sexy products in our world, there’s lots more going on at Crosman’s factory than that. The company is a major manufacturer of airgun pellets. And when we say ‘major’, we actually mean ‘MAJOR!’ because the Bloomfield factory pumps out around three million pellets every day, seven days a week. That’s over a billion pellets a year, and explains why Crosman pellets are found at just about every shop across the USA where you can buy airguns, and in many other countries around the world.
Don’t forget that the Crosman factory also bangs out a massive number of BBs a day, too. In fact, you can make that ten times more BBs than pellets. I lost count of the number of zeroes involved at that point.
Crosman introduced the now ubiquitous 12 gramme CO2 capsule in 1954. They’ve been making them ever since, and currently produce around 140,000 CO2 ‘Powerlets’ every day. That’s a lot of gas!
For many years, Crosman focused almost entirely on the US home market – after all, it’s huge! – but in recent years, the company has increased its focus on export markets, and now Crosman products are available in most countries around the globe.
In 2012, Crosman opened a European distribution centre in Denmark, to focus on business on this side of the pond, and you can see that the company is interested in developing the British market via it’s UK distributor, ASI.; just look at the amount of Crosman advertising you see in Airgun World every month!
I spoke to Jennifer Lambert, Crosman’s Vice President of Marketing. “Of course,” she said, “Britain is very important to us. The UK is one of Europe’s largest markets for airguns and accounts for a significant portion of our international business. There are lots of enthusiastic and knowledgeable airgun shooters in the British Isles, and we always keep the wants of UK customers to the forefront when we are developing new technologies and products.”
Jennifer continued: “We believe that British airgunners value Crosman and Benjamin products, seeing them as offering great value performance at attractive prices, and we’re continuing to introduce new products that play well within the British 12 ft.lb legal limit, like the Benjamin Maximus Euro. The air pistol market is also big for us in the UK, with models like the all-metal PFM 16. We have great plans for 2018, too.”
For the record, I did ask for a worldwide scoop on what these 2018 plans might be, but Jennifer said that if she told me, she’d have to shoot me - and I don’t think she meant just with a Crosman airsoft gun!
Quality and efficiency
Crosman is also focusing hard on quality. The company’s Manufacturing Engineer, Nic Hargarther, took me through many of the improvements that Crosman is making to barrels and pellet quality, in particular. The culture of continuous improvement is very striking on the production floor, with great emphasis on parts quality and efficient manufacturing practices.
Although Crosman uses many automated manufacturing systems – how else could they make so many pellets, BBs and Powerlets? – it’s interesting to see that the airguns themselves are all still assembled by hand. The factory is full of multiple small production cells, each one focused on a specific product, or range of products, with dedicated operators who take pride in their work and yet who still made time to good-naturedly tease me for ‘speaking funny’.
Back to the future
Looking back over nearly 100 years of airgun history, it’s clear that although Crosman has successfully stuck to its knitting over the years, the company has not been afraid to innovate and enter new markets. Walking around the company’s airgun museum at the factory makes that clear.
Crosman was involved in paintball when that was hot, and has been a large player in the airsoft market for years. It also produced an early, electronically-controlled, big-bore airgun, the Benjamin Rogue, that was arguably ahead its time. More recently, the Benjamin Airbow is an innovative PCP ‘airgun’ that shoots arrows with the power of a crossbow – make that a cool 168 ft.lbs of muzzle energy – and opens up a whole new field of hunting large game with air power.
Like everyone else in the airgun world, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what the 2018 SHOT Show has in store on the Crosman stand!
Last, but not least, I’d like to thank everyone at Crosman for their help in compiling this story. They were all very generous with their time and information, and they gave me access to every part of the company I wanted to look at, and more. They know about Airgun World and were excited to know that there would be a story about their company in these hallowed pages.
Stephen Archer is the Publisher of the American online Hard Air Magazine hardairmagazine.com.