Throughout the history of this great nation, manufacturers have made special embellished arms for presidential presentation. The following is a sample of rifles from the Presidential Collection at the Cody Firearms Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Abraham Lincoln – 16th President of the United States
This is a .44 caliber breechloading percussion rifle with a hammer in the shape of President Lincoln’s head. I don’t think there’s a gun enthusiast alive who hasn’t heard the stories of Lincoln test firing repeaters on the White House lawn. He was passionate about emerging technologies – in fact the Smithsonian Institution has his presentation Henry Rifle on display. But in terms of honoring the man, this gun takes the cake.
The Lincoln Head Hammer Gun – as we affectionately call it – is the only one known to exist. No surprise there. Hiram Berdan, of sharpshooter fame, made this firearm in appreciation of his June 13, 1861 meeting with the President. During this encounter, Lincoln agreed to the formation of two sharpshooter regiments, colloquially known as the Berdan Sharpshooters. This gun was made in 1863 but wasn’t presented to the President due to his untimely death.
President Theodore Roosevelt – 26th President of the United States
During the Election of 1912 – when President Theodore Roosevelt ran for a third term under the Progressive Party – a saloon keeper attempted to assassinate him while he was delivering a speech. The bullet went through TR’s shirt pocket — which held an eyeglass case and his speech notes — and lodged in his chest. Undeterred, Roosevelt continued the speech before seeking treatment.
Many museums are home to firearms associated with this particular president. The Cody Firearms Museum has two: a Winchester Model 1895 Lever Action Rifle (above, in his preferred .405 caliber) and a custom Fox double-barrel shotgun. It’s believed that both accompanied Mr. Roosevelt on his African Safari in 1909.
President Calvin Coolidge – 30th President of the United States
Imagine getting a phone call in the middle of the night informing you that you are the President. No this isn’t an episode of Designated Survivor; this was a somber reality for President Calvin Coolidge. At 2:30am on August 3, 1923, Vice President Coolidge received word that President Warren G. Harding had died. Coolidge was President until 1929 and died only four years later.
On December 25, 1927 President Coolidge received this Winchester Model 1894 lever action rifle from the manufacturer – a Christmas present perhaps? But it wasn’t just any 1894; it was serial number 1,000,000. Not only did Winchester present him with one of the most popular hunting rifles of all time, they presented him with a milestone serial number. It was the first times that an American manufacturer had produced a million examples of a sporting firearm.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower – 34th President of the United States
President Eisenhower was a five-star general, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Western Europe during WWII. Armed with his famous slogan, “I Like Ike,” the West Point grad won the presidency in 1953.
This Winchester Model 1894 in .30-30 is serial number 2,500,000. Master Engraver John Kusmit did the gold engraving, recreating an older embellishment style (using a template featured in a Winchester catalog from 1897).
President John F. Kennedy – 35th President of the United States
President Kennedy was an avid sportsman, one of eight Presidents to have NRA Life Membership. He had a fairly extensive collection of firearms, including an M1 Garand acquired through the Civilian Marksmanship program.
This presentation Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle — the “Rifleman’s Rifle” — has a milestone serial number as well: number 500,000. The firearm, in .264 Winchester, was engraved by another Kusmit, Nick. The rifle was completed in 1962. Like the Lincoln rifle above, it never made it into the President’s hands. It was in the custom shop when Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
President Ronald Reagan – 40th President of the United States
The most recent presidential firearm in the Cody Firearms Museum presidential collection belonged to Ronald Reagan. Similar to the Lincoln-Head Hammer gun, this firearm was a personal project by an individual rather than a manufacturer. Frank Pachmayr, a Los Angeles gunsmith who knew Reagan personally, worked with Cody resident Nick Misciagna, a former San Franscisco attorney and member of then-California Governor Reagan’s speakers bureau, on this rifle, beginning in 1981.
For those keeping track of the Presidential Model 1894s, this is a variation. The Winchester Model 64, directly replaced the Model 55, but both were variations on the original ingenious Browning design. This Model 64 was embellished and modified to be fitting of President Reagan’s legacy. It has a Circassian burl walnut stock and fantastic engraving.
Master engraver R. Boucher embellished this firearm with emblems representative of not only Reagan’s time as President but also from his earlier years. It has a football from when he played at Eureka College; a microphone from his time as a sportscaster; drama masks for his time as an actor; a Screen Actor’s Guild logo for when he was President of that organization. And final ingots represent his political career with the seal of California and President of the United States.
This final firearm differs from the others; it was presented to President Reagan after his time in office. According to a previous interview with Misciagna, “This meant that the gift became his personal possession and not a presidential artifact headed for the Smithsonian.” The other guns in this list, with the exception of Lincoln’s firearm, were made by Winchester, returned to Winchester, and housed within the catacombs of their collection – whereas the museum made the decision to purchase this firearm from an auction.
For more information, visit centerofthewest.org