June 26, 2023
I don’t know if Arthur Savage technically qualifies as a gunsmith, but I do know he was an extraordinarily successful inventor and is credited with designing one of the most iconic American centerfire rifles. Of course, I’m referring to the Savage Model 99 lever action. I’m not an expert on the Savage Model 99, but I know it is one of the most popular classic rifles among Shooting Times readers because I get a lot of letters and emails from readers saying so.
In addition to coming up with the design for the Model 99, Savage also invented radial tires and a torpedo. He once owned the largest cattle ranch in Australia and then a plantation in Jamaica. And he built race cars. Here’s a little info on the man.
Arthur William Savage was born on May 19, 1857, in Kingston, Jamaica. His father was Welsh, and Arthur was educated in Great Britain and the United States. By the 1880s, he was married (he and his wife Annie Bryant would eventually have eight children), had moved his family to Australia, and had homesteaded in a covered wagon. He then purchased the largest cattle ranch in that country but later sold the ranch and bought a Jamaican plantation (one source says it was a coffee plantation; another says it was a banana plantation).
In 1892 Arthur and his family moved to Utica, New York, where he worked for the Utica Belt Line Street Railroad and also part-time for the Utica Hammer Magazine Co., a gun parts maker. This is when he turned his attention to designing lever-action rifles. His first model had a magazine in the stock rather than under the barrel as was conventional at that time. In 1893 he received a patent for the Savage Model 95 lever-action rifle, and in 1894 he and his son, Arthur John Savage, started the Savage Arms Co. in a rented space on Hubbell Street in Utica. They didn’t have enough space to produce the Model 95 rifles there, so the first 9,600 were manufactured by Marlin Firearms Co. In 1897 Savage filed for the patent on a very similar rifle but with a removable box magazine, and the Model 99 was born.
As I said, I’m not an expert on the Model 99, but it was innovative in many ways, not the least of which was its unique rotary magazine. It also may have been the first “mass-produced” hammerless rifle, although the Model 95 was also hammerless, so I suppose that distinction comes down to what your definition of mass-produced is. All I know is the Model 99 was immensely popular—and still is with Shooting Times readers—and stayed in production for more than 100 years.
But Arthur didn’t stay in the gun business anywhere near that long. In 1901 he moved to Duarte, California, and formed the Savage Tire Co. to make tires and inner tubes. In that industry, he developed new production methods and invented what would be his greatest legacy (even more than the Model 99 rifle): radial tires.
Tragically, Arthur committed suicide on September 22, 1938. A pistol and a note were found at his side. The note stated that he was in extreme pain caused by a medical condition. He was 81 years old.
While his death was unfortunate, Arthur W. Savage lived a full, creative life. In addition to patents for the Model 99 and its predecessors, in 1891 he received a patent for collaborating in the invention of the Savage-Halpine torpedo, which was eventually adopted by the Brazilian Navy; in 1908 he received a patent for an improved box magazine that would become widely used in military rifles after his patent expired in 1942; and in 1914 and 1915 he received patents for tires and inner tube manufacture.
No doubt about it, he most definitely was an ingenious inventor.