Thanks to arrangements by The Firearm Blog and NRA, the author recieved the pleasure of touring the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, VA with a personal commentary on the collection by the Senior Curator Doug Wicklund. Mr. Wicklund has been with the NRA since 1986 and has a tremendous wealth of knowledge on historical small arms and has put much effort into shaping the museum into what it is today. All wording in italics are from his commentary.
The Peterson Gallery is in the entrance to the museum and is composed of firearms from the collection of Robert Peterson (1926-2007) who is most famous for establishing Peterson’s Publishing Company, the parent company of Guns & Ammo, Hot Rod, and numerous other magazines. Upon his death, Peterson’s widow allowed the NRA to pick from his collection certain pieces that would be displayed in the museum. Notice the computer on the bottom right. All firearms have a metallic tag near them with a number that can be entered on these computers throughout the museum. The number will bring up more information about that particular firearm, including more in depth pictures of it from different angles.
We chose what we thought were the best 400 guns, that includes all his Gatling Guns…we have quite a few Purdy’s. Some of these Gatlings were being made while the American Civil War was being waged. These are in .45-70, .30-40. [The smaller Gatling] was probably a salesman sample, it actually shoots as well.
This double rifle was ordered for the Shah of Persia… some of these are just incredible guns, this set was made for the Mah’hraja, made in .700 [Nitro Express], they don’t make any like this anymore. We’ve got quite a good collection [of these], there’s also a number out at our museum in Missouri. Then of course there’s the Princess Diana shotgun, given to her at her Royal wedding
Holland & Holland would make special sets, that were to a certain extent not for an individual, they were commemorative pieces. [such as the Apollo set at the lower left]
The thing with the triple set of guns, was that if you went birding, and invited a friend, well then he might bring along a friend as well so you’d actually have three shotguns, to make a well fitted excursion.
This is a coffee table of curiosities, just incredible things, a sun dial alarm clock that went off with a gun, a sword, cutless and dagger gun, 18 shot pepperbox, a triple threat giving you brass knuckle and dagger as well as a revolver, so just incredible. The sun dial gun was made so the rays of the sun would align just at noon and then boom! No snooze button included.
1876 Philadelphia Exposition Harrington & Richardson Revolver board… the company spent all its money on this display, its the only relic left from the Exposition. Behind each one of the stars was also for 1876 brand new cutting edge technology, an electric motor. Actually you can see theres a nick or two on one of them where one set would collide with another.
The Python in the upper right was the only gun we found loaded, it was [Peterson’s] gun stand gun. But we have found that the majority of these guns have been fired. We chose roughly ten percent of the collection, we like to think that we chose the best.
The ultimate military gun in this collection was this one, made for Hermann Goering,[commander of the Luftwaffe] in 1945 it was presented to then General, Dwight Eisenhower. He liked it alot and wanted to give it to a close friend that was in the hospital, Black Jack Pershing. Two American Generals, one German Marshal. We think Franco, in Spain commissioned it because that is the finest Spanish engraving. We’re not sure who did the case, possibly Goering.
Choosing the best of the best, we put those guns into this wooden cabinet, we call it the Jewel Box.One of the arms is a double barrel bolt action rifle. The guy that designed that was charged by 3 elephants and he had a standard double rifle, and had two spare rounds. He was able to stop all three elephants with those four shots. But he got such an adrenaline rush from it that he designed a 8 shot, double barrel bolt action. You actually have the ability to fire two barrels at one time, it will load both barrels when the bolt is operated, it will load two and extract two. Both rounds will be kicked out to the right.
One of the finest Holland & Holland’s is this “Rebesca”. 28 gauge, it took three years to complete the engraving, gold, silver, platinum. They had this one for a gallery center piece. One of Peterson’s favorite guns.
Some of these guns were used during the war between the states, very neat Sharps carbine that has a stock carving on it. That was captured at Rapponeck Station in 1863, when Buford’s troops caught up with the Confederates. The gun was probably issued to a Massachusetts guy, captured by the Confederates and recaptured by the Union. Changed hands a few times.
This is the Holland & Holland Civil War Commemorative set, one of a kind. The case is very nice, as well as coming with the guns. Mr. Peterson was able to order this directly from Holland & Holland.
This is material from Theodore Roosevelt from Sagamore Hill in Long Island, we have in effect, his house. The Park Service closed down Sagamore Hill to do some restoration, and we were able to borrow his studio, the Park Service let us borrow all this stuff, because they have the house closed down. It should be reopening next year, then all this will go back. That’s his uniform, hat and sword, that he wore going up San Juan Hill. Of course by the time he got to the top of the hill, he had lost his hat, took off his jacket, and he had later admitted that he left his sword in his tent because it was too clumsily.
His favorite Winchester, a Model 90, this one went back to the factory five times before he was satisfied with it. And of course his 94 Winchester had a Maxim suppressor. If you’re going to be shooting off your back porch on Long Island and you have neighbors like Dupont, and Tiffany, you don’t want to scare those kind of folks.
[On the display it mentions that Teddy Roosevelt was in a high level meeting with a number of overseas diplomats when his children burst in the room and said, “Cousin Theodore, it’s 4 o’clock!”. Roosevelt looked down at his watch and announced to the diplomats “By Jove it is, I promised the lads I would take them shooting at four o’clock, and you must know what a hard trial it is to keep a boy waiting to go shooting.”]
[This is a German multifire wheel lock musket, it was preloaded with 16 charges and fired by two different locks, 8 charges each. Once the frontal lock fired off its charges, then the rear lock would fire off it’s 8. Very advanced for it’s time period.]
This M60 probably shot more for Hollywood than it did for Uncle Sam in Vietnam. There was a young actor, Sylvester Stallone, that used it in the Rambo movies. It was also the gun that Arnold Schwarzenegger used in the Predator movie.
This Kalashnikov was given to the Museum by General Kalashnikov. Eugene Stoner and Kalashnikov actually met here in Virginia and they shot each other’s design and I think that the best thing I can tell you that for one afternoon, they tore each other’s guns apart and talked about them. And Stoner at the end of it, said he was glad that he didn’t have to compete directly with Kalashnikov.
Some of the weird and wacky guns from the Gyrojet to the Bren Ten. That’s actually the first Bren Ten, I got that one from the publicity director of Dornaus and Dixon. He was given it as a gift and I bought it off of him. They started serial numbers off at 1000 to make people think that they sold alot more. That gun’s serial number is 1001. But from the Mauser ZigZag to the bulpup bushmaster, we have an incredible collection of weird and wacky firearms.
A special exhibit of the Ruger Gallery, Mr Ruger wrote us a large check and he said that part of the museum should be a changing gallery in which the finest of public and private collections should be showcased. This section used to be called the “Arsenal of Democracy in which we showcased a number of items from World War Two. Now we changed it to movie guns. These are guns from movies like True Grit, Big Jake. We also have a similar exhibit out in our museum in Springfield, Missouri. This is Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. We have some modern movies as well, such as the good guy and bad guy in Die Hard, Book of Eli, SWAT. Star Wars Blaster. And of course modern military movies, we’ve got the Gatling gun that was used in Gunga Din. We’ve got guns from The Alamo, The Hurt Locker, even the M1 Garand from Grand Torino, “Get off my lawn!”. Most of these are the real deal and not prop or blank firing guns. If you look closely in the muzzles of them, they have recessed threads that are for blank adapting purposes. It allows actors to shoot blanks alot easier. That’s a full auto Ingram from Mcq. It wasn’t John Wayne’s best film, they were trying to set him up to compete with Dirty Harry. He was going to be the Dirty Harry of the Pacific Northwest. We’ve got a couple guns from Pulp Fiction.
All of the miniature stuff actually works, the guy that made that little one actually shot it twice. He said the secret was that he used a sewing needle because your finger would not reach the trigger. The purpose of these miniatures began with one of the ways to become a master gunsmith back in the 1700s was that if you were a journeyman, preparing to leave, and start up a new business; to prove that you could do your trade, you had to make a gun complete all the way from the bottom. To make it from small scale was even more of a challenge. As you were moving from place to place while walking, it was alot easier to transport a miniature instead of a full size firearm.
We have one final exhibit, Charlton Heston said that “Freedom’s Doorway was framed with muskets”. Is a musket a .45-70? a .303? or a .22 rifle? Or any and all of them? It’s kind of what we feel as we change out the guns here from time to time. But it’s a neat part of the museum.
All images taken and published with the express permission of the National Rifle Association