The Personal Account Of Samuel Norris

In 1898, when the Mauser had proven itself a terrible weapon in the Boer War and in Cuba, when its name was a by-word in American newspapers, Samuel Norris sat down to write for posterity an account of his connection with the now famous rifle. The litde Bristol Phoenix and the New York Times carried his account, an engrossing summary which is as remarkable for what it leaves out as for what it tells. Of the era in which the brothers Mauser worked (and nearly starved), Samuel Norris wrote:

"Every European Government was seeking a breech-loading system either as a new arm or as a transformation for muzzle-loaders. The English Government were about the first to decide, and they adopted the Snyder [Snider] as a transformation, really an American invention. Soon they began to transform their Enfields, the caliber of which was .57. [.577] Some years later the English Government adopted the 'Martini-Henry1—the name of 'Martini' applied to the breech mechanism, that of 'Henry' to the barrel. Again this system was mainly American, the invention of a Mr. Peabody of Boston.

"All the Continental Governments were alive to this important change of armament. The Germans had years before been the pioneers in breechloaders in their needle gun. Its caliber was .78. [15.43-mm or .601] In the base of the ball fulminate was placed, and the powder was held in a paper case. When the trigger was pulled the needle in the bolt shot forward, striking and igniting the fulminate, and the explosion followed. It had no effective gas check, hence the range was very small, and the gas came back into the face of the firer. However, the superiority of even this mechanism over muzzle-loaders was shown in the war between Prussia and Austria, and this hastened the efforts of Austria to get a breech-loading system.

"A grand commission was appointed in Vienna, the president of which was the Archduke William, cousin of the Emperor. The commission tested many systems, and decided to recommend to the Emperor the Remington.' His Majesty was invited to the arsenal to see the arm, and, as was expected, to approve of its adoption. He came with a staff of some seventy officers. After the inspection he was invited to fire the arm. I was present and remember well the brilliant gathering on the green in front of the targets. A young officer first fired the 'Remington' most satisfactorily, then the Emperor took the arm to fire. This arm and the cartridges had been made in Vienna to conform to the ideas of the commission as to caliber, form of bullet, and charge of powder. American metallic cartridge machinery was unknown in Austria at that time, hence the cartridges used for this trial, which were rim fire, were very imperfect. The very first one used by the Emperor failed to ignite; all others were successfully fired. This failure, with which the arm had nothing to do, proved fatal in Austria. All the newspapers attacked the Government for considering the arm, echoing the wishes of the hundreds in Vienna at that moment who were interested in other arms. It was even cabled to Providence that an accident had occurred to the Remington in the hands of the Emperor— a wicked misrepresentation. So fiercely was the Government assailed that the adoption of the Remington was abandoned, and trials of all systems were stopped. A few months later they took up the Wendel [Werndl] arm, an Austrian invention, destitute of merit, and adopted it. The Caliber was about .43. Still later that Government adopted the 'Mannlicher' system."

As Mr. Norris points out, the ammunition and the rifle were made in Austria and probably neither was up to the Remington-made standard. Certainly, no arm should be condemned because of the failure of a single cartridge to fire. To judge from the news accounts of the Vienna press, the system was rejected because a soldier was killed when a section of the split breechpiece was blown out. Indeed such a report was brought back to the United States by Lt. Col. C. B. Norton and figured in an official Congressional Report made on munitions at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867. Norton's report is confusing, since it carries a cut of the improved solid breechblock which was in use when he filed his report.

When Austria adopted the Werndl, it is noteworthy that the special cartridge designed for it had an outside center fire primer specially constructed to prevent escape of gas to the rear from the charge. The breechblock of the rifle itself was rotated up and to the left; and was so mounted and constructed that accidents such as that ascribed to the split-breech Remington could not conceivably happen. The danger of weak cartridge heads and blown out blocks appears to have been almost an obsession with the engineers at Steyr Armory, where the Werndl was designed.

In the United States there was so much dissatisfaction with the split breech mechanism that Remington's engineers worked to develop a more powerful, solid breechblock with a firing pin mounted in the block itself. This was the famous Remington Single Shot with which the Norris brothers blanketed much of the military world of that day. This new design was so staunch that even today specimens of the original rifles are in use in odd corners of the world—particularly in the Balkans and in South America; while in Sweden the design is currently manufactured as a shotgun lock mechanism. No stronger single shot rifle has ever been made.

The "improved" Remington was announced in the August 1866 issue of the U. S. Army and Navy Journal, but machine tool manufacture delayed actual production until the following Spring.

Indeed, in his own article Norris tells us indirectly of the new solid breechblock. He continues:

''Meantime the French Government were testing many systems. They inclined to the 'Remington,' and gave a small order of the dimensions they desired for exhaustive trial. At the moment this order was received in America an improvement had been made in that arm and much valuable time was lost in their delivery in Paris. Gen. Le Boeuf, President of the Committee of Artillery, was greatly annoyed at the delay, and as war clouds were gathering they hastily decided on the 'chassepot,' a bolt needle gun, using what was called a silk cartridge—that is, the case which contained the powder was made of silk, in the end of which was placed the fulminate and the needle by means of a spiral spring in the bolt when the trigger was pulled passed through and exploded it. For the purpose of preventing the escape of gas at the rear, what was called the tete mobile made of rubber was fixed on the end of this bolt. This entered the chamber, the explosion compressed it, and theoretically it was expected that it would prevent all gas and the debris from the burnt silk case coming out at the rear. This was not wholly realized. The debris did pass into and around the bolt, clogging the spring and the easy and proper movement of the bolt in the shoe in which it moved. After six or eight shots I have seen that the bolt could not be moved unless lubricated with water.

"The Greeks closely followed the investigations of the French at Vincennes, near Paris, and they decided on the Remington, and we made a contract for 15,000. These finally went to France during the Franco-Prussian War."

Greek Captain Alexandros Fountouclis, though unmentioned in the Norris narrative, was a prime mover in the Greek contract. He toured Europe testing rifle systems for the Hellenic Government and finally decided on the Remington. The placing of the order brought severe repercussions from Greece, and the original order was violently opposed in some circles.

The Norris narrative compresses into a few paragraphs a running fire account of the amazing range of travel and contacts of the next few years. The diligence, ingenuity and shrewdness of the Yankee brothers was perhaps without parallel in its day. In his own account, Norris constantly glides over the hardships and hairbreadth escapes. No one reading this later day account of his would ever fathom the strange depths of his Puritanic early-New England philosophy; no one could hope to catch even a glimer of the tortuous mental and ethical processes which made him and many of his Yankee peers wealthy and respected men. And no one could hope to assay the courage, the fortitude and the gruelling effort he poured into his activities.

His account continues:

"The Danes made exhaustive trials in Copenhagen, and decided on either the Remington or Peabody, and sent a commission to America to contract for one of those arms. My brother, Mr. John Norris, devoted himself for some time to this effort, and finally, the Minister of War, Gen. Rassloff, advised me to follow his commission to America, as the decision would be made there, but he would not give any assurance that the decision would await my arrival. However, I went. It resulted in a contract for 30,000 Remingtons, which was followed by other contracts. This was in 1867. Almost simultaneously my brother made a contract with the Swedish Government for a large quantity of Remington mechanisms, they proposing to complete the arm in Sweden. This they did.

"Meantime the Spanish Government had officers in America. The Remington was decided on by them for Cuba and orders were given. Then followed trials at Madrid, and the Remington became the adopted arm of that Government. I made three contracts in behalf of the Messrs. Remington, viz., for 10,000, 50,000 and 130,000. The Spanish Government had on its hands the war in Cuba and with the Carlists in Spain. It was an event to get either to or from Madrid, journeys which I made several times, and at considerable risk, when I passed through the Carlist lines having in my luggage abundant evidence of my dealings with the Spanish Government. However, I never had any serious trouble. The last order they tried to cut short by 30,000 arms, for they had more arms than were needed. When I heard of this, being in St. Petersburg, I went directly to Madrid and was most fairly treated by Gen. Jovillia, the Minister of War and the former Governor General of Cuba. He had to refer the matter to several commissions, and finally I got a favorable decision from the Council of State and these arms were delivered and paid for. In fact, while these contracts amounted to several millions of dollars, all was paid with a good degree of promptness. My relations with all Spanish officials were always pleasant. The caliber of the Spanish arms was .43.

"When the Viceroy came to Europe to invite the various crowned heads to the opening of the Suez Canal, I was requested to meet Ratib Pasha in London for the purpose of negotiating a contract for 'Remington' arms. It resulted in a contract being executed in the smoking room of Buckingham Palace for 60,000 arms. Several other contracts followed, all the guns ordered being manufactured at Ilion."

At this point, Author Norris in 1898 has set the stage to tell his story of his connection with the Mauser Brothers. Perhaps time has made him forget his dates: whatever the reason, he tells us that he first heard of the Mauser rifle in the seventies, while actually it was the Summer of 1867 when he first stumbled on his chance-of-a-life-time to dominate the small arms business of the World.

Norris continues:

"Early in the seventies I was in Vienna. My friend, Count Bylandt, afterward Marshal and Minister of War of the Austrian Empire, told me of a new arm which he had seen. All he knew about it was that it was die invention of two brothers, Mauser by name, and that it came to him from Stuttgart, Wurtemberg. It was shown to me. It was a bolt gun, and I saw in it features which I thought could be utilized in changing the Chassepot to a metallic car-tridge gun. On my return to Paris I saw the Committee of Artillery, and found that if it could be done it would at least greatly interest them. I at once went to Stuttgart, and at the War Office found the whereabouts of the Mausers. Their home was in Oberndorf—some distance from a railway line. I went there, and found they were at work in the small Government armory in that place. Soon I was introduced to them. They looked liked crushed men—poor and working hard for their living. I found that the officials pooh-poohed their arm, and they had lost all hope. I asked them to my hotel, and soon I got the option to employ them and to exploit their invention if I should so elect within a certain number of days."

Thus the story was told for the edification of the world and for formal history by Samuel Norris in the year 1898. This is a factual story, and like most factual stories it is true—as far as it goes.

But for the true story we must turn to other records which show the mental processes of the famous salesman at the time of the happenings—the uninhibited records of a devoted husband to his loving wife, some long forgotten letters of Samuel Norris.

After receiving assurances from the French that they would be interested in a device to alter the Chassepot needle rifle to a metallic cartridge arm, Norris set out on his journey to hunt up the obscure German gunsmiths who had solved the problem.

His letter to his wife written on September 13, 1867 is a far cry from the stilted literary form of his later article in the Bristol Phoenix, Here we see the devoted husband, the shrewd psychologist, the sharp trader, the indomitable traveller, the ingenious operator, the utterly ruthless exploiter—all the complex characters which were rolled into one composite to produce a man who was the epitome of the Yankee international businessman of the period of the middle 60's. . . . No problem is ever approached directly, no cards are ever on the table. The inventors have an article of merit, but they are hopelessly poor? Then buy for a low price! You want their rifle system for a conver- ' sion? Then talk of cartridges, and of what might be done—at great expense— with foreign patents on the rifle. But don't mention France! Your employers, Remington, will not like your developing a competing rifle of more advanced design? They may cut you loose? Then dangle part of the new dirt-cheap contract before them! Suppose they don't exploit it properly, all you are concerned with is the Chassepot conversion!. . . .

But let us see the letter itself:

"September 13th, 1867.

"Hardly was a journey commenced with as much doubt as this was when I left Stuttgart and with such overwhelmingly satisfactory results. Suffering a good deal from a boil on my leg after five hours in the cars, I must say my heart almost failed me, when I came to get into the Post carriage at 9 a. m. to ride till one o'clock.

"However, I did it and was very comfortable. I got a good bed and this morning started out with my interpreter. I ought to say that when the landlord showed us to bed I asked him what sort of a town they had here. That was enough and he went on to talk of the gun factory and then about 'Mauser's wonderful gun.' Of course we were very ignorant. He offered to take us to the gun works and enable us to see this new gun. So you see the ice was broken at once. Well—so this morning we went and manifested great interest in the rude machines and work they were doing. Presently Mr. Mauser was brought forward and I told him I would go to his room and see his gun—so we went and talked and talked and examined and all the time I gradually led on without showing what my desire was. We talked much about the cartridges, he having a new one, then I said I had one—and asked the two Mauser brothers to come to the hotel in the p. m. to see it. We said good-bye and came off. At one, they came and never left till eight this evening. Well, I have an agreement signed— giving me the right to the whole invention—gun and cartridges for the world for 6000 francs per year for ten years. Cheap enough. I have all the details tn black and white and well understood. Strange to say in the course of a talk with my excellent men—one of them said—"We have a brother in America working in IIion.- A man I know very well and one of the best men in Remington's works. I said nothing, but when I found I was going to nail them I told them I knew him and saw him six weeks ago. They were surprised and delighted for they had not seen him for sixteen years. Besides they remembered that he had mentioned my name in his letters—(probably and naturally as Remington's representative in Europe). It gave them increased confidence, they said. Poor men, they are most intelligent, capable men, but have been kept down by every means possible and are now working twelve hours per day for four francs each. They have been told that their gun was the best before this and the Bavarian Government and I think it is the one these Governments will take.

"In fact—it is the cheapest thing yet produced and in many respects the best. I wanted it, as you know, for changing the Chassepot and they say they can do it. I hardly mentioned that however—though in the paper they agree to give me France in consideration of the patents I obtain for them in the next ninety days, if I don't carry out the whole agreement. So I have what I came for and more if I desire. I have not of course, determined what is best, but if E. R. and Sons do right, I think I shall let them in, in consideration of my continuing to act for them in the 'R'—This will induce them to do this, otherwise it might lead to a split, which I want to avoid. Besides, while I should be served, they will be too, for we need not force this, when there is any chance for the 4R'—then too, it's a good thing for them for it's the coming gun—and cheap as dirt and easily made, I mean quickly."

Norris knew the psychology of his employers quite as well as he knew the psychology of those he employed. For an interest in the new patent, Samuel

Remington was prepared to keep Norris in his employ: that way he could also control what might otherwise prove dangerous competition. And after all, the contract stipulated nothing about aggressively marketing the Mauser.

A closing note in the Norfis letter of September 13th gives an additional sidelight on the strong tide of fortune which flowed for him in that year 1867:

"Well now I start at twelve midnight—ride in the Post carriage till four—• then take the cars to Stuttgart arriving there at 9:30 tomorrow morning. Then at one, if I feel able and ride all tomorrow p. m. and night arriving Vienna, Sunday morning. Then I shall go to see Count Bylandt, he has one of the guns.

"It is certainly an incident this getting complete control of what promises to be an important gun in a little town in the interior of Germany through the tongue of a rather poor interpreter, for me and for them, as his German is quite different from theirs."

Norris continually worked at a feverish pace, his energy was all but boundless. The 25th of September 1867 found him in Liege, Belgium, where he wrote to his wife:

"My German boys have come and I have had them examining the Chassepot, and they say, without hesitation, they can easily change their arm as I want it changed. Certainly it promises well and I pray that it may result as well as we hope."

The following day he wrote his wife a graphic letter from the Hotel Suede in Liege:

"I am in my room, the two Mausers sitting at the table—my patent lawyer ditto at work at drawings. My interpreter examining the Chassepot—my cigar at my side —the table covered with all sorts of things—guns—cartridges— papers, etc. So much for the picture before me."

For once Samuel Norris was not telling his faithful wife the whole story-there was much more in "the picture before me."

There were two trusting, hard working men of genius blindly placing confidence and hope in him. To Samuel Norris they were merely "my German boys:" )ust two hard working, poverty stricken youths with a potential gold mine and no cash resources. For all his deep knowledge of how to influence people, Samuel Norris failed to plumb the depths or to assay the real stature of the simple men before him.

He could not look into the future and see sickly Wilhelm Mauser who, but a few years later, was to have opened for him all the Chancellery doors which by then would be forever closed to the once powerful Samuel Norris.

Nor could he look a few years still further into the future and see the brawny Paul Mauser who would talk with kings; and whose arms would sell in the tens of millions in all corners of the World.

If Samuel Norris had sensed those possibilities, if he had drawn a different contraot, if he had pushed the new rifles as the inventors were led to believe he would—and as they themselves did—who can say how the history of the world might have been changed? Instead, he had drawn up in French— a language utterly unknown to the "parties of the second part"—the contract here translated:


Between Samuel Norris, manufacturer of arms, residing at Paris, rue de Berry, No. 2,-of the first part,

Wilhelm Mauser, armorer, residing at Oberndorf (Wurtenberg), and Paul Mauser, likewise armorer, and residing at Oberndorf,-of the second part,

The following agreement has been made:

L—The parties of the second part, inventors of a system of breech-loading rifle and central percussion cartridge, agree to sell, cede, and transfer to the party of the first part the ownership of the said invention, with all the rights which result therefrom in order to secure patents in all countries whatever; they engage likewise to transfer to' him the ownership of every invention of this kind that they shall make hereafter and of every improvement that they shall bring to their system of rifle and cartridge.

2.—The parties of the second part engage accordingly to do everything that shall depend on them to help Mr. Norris in obtaining patents for the said system in the different countries.

They give him for this purpose one or more irrevocable powers of attorney to take these patents either in his own name or in the names of the parties of the second part.

They will sign all papers and documents that shall be considered necessary and engage in general to do everything that shall be necessary to help Mr. Norris in the execution of his task.

3.—Mr. Norris shall have the right to dispose as he shall desire of the patents obtained whether under his name or those of the parties of the second part, who renounce taking out for rifles and cartridges of this kind any patents in any country unless as explained above by the mediation of the party of the first part.

The parties of the second part engage to sign and ratify all contracts of transfer of these patents to third parties if their intervention be demanded by the party of the first part; in one word, to perform all the acts necessary to transfer legally their ownership, the case arising.

4.—The parties of the second part undertake during six months, from the 13th of September last, to work for Mr. Norris or his representatives, if the party of the first part requires it, at the price of three to four florins per day for each of them, according to the expenses which they shall have to incur—

Mr. Norris will pay to them their fare if they be required by him to go to Vienna, or Paris or any other place.

5.—All the costs of patents are at the expense of the party of the first part.

6.—Besides the said party of the first part will pay to the parties of the second part within the period of ten years counting frpm this day for all the patents obtained and to be obtained the sum of 80,000 francs as indicated in the following articles, to wit:

Three thousand francs the first year 3000

Three thousand francs the second year 3000

Five thousand francs the third, year 5000

Six thousand francs the fourth year 6000

Seven thousand francs the fifth year 7000

Nine thousand francs the sixth year 9000

Ten thousand francs the seventh year 10000

Eleven thousand francs the eighth year 11000

Twelve thousand francs the ninth year 12000

Fourteen thousand francs the tenth year 14000

Total: Eighty thousand francs 80000

This sum shall be payable by fourths at the expiration of each quarter.

7.—This sum of eighty thousand francs, likewise each annual sum, shall be distributed in the following manner among the different patents to be obtained:

A sixth for the English patent.

A sixth for the French patent.

A portion by equal parts for all the other patents.

8.—If from year to year, the number of these last patents obtained happen to increase there will be accomplished a new distribution proportional to the recompense due for each of them.

9.—In case Mr. Norris elects not to continue the payment of the recompense due for one of the patents obtained by him, after the manner of distribution indicated, the parties of the second part will have no other right than to take possession of this patent, without indemnity for Mr. Norris, who retains nevertheless the ownership of the other patents of which he shall have paid the recompense.

10.—In any event, it is understood that in case Mr. Norris should cease to pay completely the annual sum stipulated above, he shall retain meanwhile as indemnity for his trouble the French patent.

If however he h"as or should hereafter sell this French patent, he shall pay the sixth of the annual sum, as it is stipulated above.

If it should happen that the system Mauser be adopted at the same time by three of the four Governments, England, Austria, America or France, the total of the annual sum shall be paid to the parties of the second part.

11.—The sum of five hundred florins already paid to the parties of the second part by Mr. Norris will be entered on the account of the third annuity.

12.—The parties of the second part at all events shall have the right to receive and retain altogether the first two annuitis of three thousand francs each.

13.—The present arrangement shall become definite only if Mr. Norris gives notice of his acceptance within ninety days, dating from September 13 last.

14.—If the parties of the second part by their fault should cause delay in validating the patents, they shall be responsible to Mr. Norris.

Done in duplicate the 28th of September, one thousand eight hundred sixty-seven.

Approved, the preceding document except clause number 11 in which the words "on account of the third annuity" are replaced by the words "on account of the first annuity."

Wilhelm Mauser


Paul Mauser

Besides it is expressly stipulated that the Messrs. Mauser can not under any pretext, directly or indirectly, transmit to third parties the rights which belong to the present contract of which the stipulations are applicable to the heirs of both parties.

Done in duplicate at the date above.


Wilhelm Mauser Paul Mauser Samuel Norris


Emile Dupone William Smith."

The contract, a truly historic document in the field of firearms, tells its own story. The Mausers were to work for "three or four florins per day for each of them, according to the expenses which they shall have to incur." (A florin was worth something under fifty cents.)

For the first and second years they were to get 3000 francs per year. (The franc was worth about twenty cents then.)

The third year they were to get 5000 francs. (But by that time it was evident the new design could not be sold to France, so the contract was abrogated. Why waste 5000 francs?)

And as a crowning indignity, the final paragraph arranged to deduct from the first year's "annuity" of 6000 francs the sum of 500 florins "already paid." (Why let it go until the third year as originally stipulated? Who knows if the contract will be carried into the third year? Certainly a prophetic question. And another $250 of good American cash saved.)

Article 9 of the contract gave Mr. Norris an easy way out, once he was confident he could not swing a deal with the French Government. The Mausers had no recourse against him. All they could do was take control of their patent.

By 1870 he knew the French could not be sold, and rather than face the prospect of paying the Mausers the sum of 5000 francs—$1000—as stipulated for the third year, Samuel Norris exercised his rights under Article 9.

For a time the Mausers were stunned, but by then they had observed their employer long and closely, and they had learned much about how to proceed with War Ministries. The story of the official acceptance of the Mauser as the German service rifle has been told from the records of the Mauser organization in the earlier part of this essay.

When Samuel Norris failed to pay that pitiful third annuity, and lapsed his contract, he forfeited all rights to patents which would have made him far richer and more widely known than he ever dared to dream.

And now, what of the further association of the "parties of the first and second parts?" Let us again turn to the Bristol Phoenix account.

"My brother was interested with me, and later the Messrs. Remington became interested. We employed them about two years in working out the invention, making models, etc. Mr. Samuel Remington, who was in Europe, discouraged its presentation to military authorities, being anxious that the Remington should be the only arm to be energetically pushed. It was a grave error, for the inclination of military men was in favor of a bolt gun, following the German and French systems. The Mausers got discouraged and went home to Obcrndorf, and soon after most wisely took their arm to Spandau, near Berlin, where all trials of arms and other military material were made. Soon the German Government adopted it, and it became the arm of the most powerful army on the Continent of Europe."

Thus wrote Samuel Norris in his quaint little New England home in the year 1898. What his true thoughts were we do not know—there are no late letters to show what he really felt. But he must have known that he had failed to take his tide at flood. His own "clever" business dealings had taken control of Mauser forever out of his grasp.

Mauser Factory Spandau

The original Mauser factory at Oberndorf


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