Tom McHale writes [via Ammoland.com]:
A lot of neato stuff happened in 1950, along with some serious unpleasantries. North Korea invaded their southern sibling, starting a tragic war masquerading as a police action. On the more positive side of things, the first self-service elevator was installed by the Otis Corporation. Zenith introduced the first television remote control and appropriately named it the Lazy Bones. Charles Schulz invented Charlie Brown, and more importantly, Snoopy. James Dean got his big break starring in a Pepsi commercial. Oh, and Remington introduced the 870 Wingmaster Shotgun . . .
Since introduction in January 1950, Remington has sold some number bigger than 10 million of 870 shotguns. I know that because back in 2009, they made a big deal out of producing the 10 millionth one.
While we’re on the topic of introduction dates, there’s a bit of uncertainty there. The official history of Remington claims the 870 was introduced in January 1950. So do the various Remington 870 collectors organizations, and you know how persnickety they are. On the other hand, a different place on the Remington website and various gun publications claim the 870 came out in 1951. I’m putting my money on the collectors, so we’ll go with 1950.
The number of variations of the Remington 870 over the years is probably uncountable. Heck, the company launched 15 different models right off the bat in various combinations of 12, 16 and 20 gauges during the first year. Also, right off the bat, was the understanding by the company that the 870 would be more than simply a bird gun. The Model 870R Riot Grade was among those first 15 models. Pricing at the time started at $69.95 and went to the whopping level of $678.55 for a Premier Grade Trap Model.
The concept of pump shotguns certainly wasn’t a new thing. In fact, the 870 Wingmaster was designed to replace another rugged Remington pump shotgun, the Model 31. In fact, the primary features that make the Remington 870 distinctive go all the way back to the very first 1950 models. Double action bars provide not only strength and longevity but allow vigorous and bind-free operation of the pump action. The double bars prevent ill effect from less than perfect linear operation of the mechanism. The locking bolt and barrel extension have also been a notable contributor to the durability of the 870 since day one. The Remington 870 Shotgun ability to swap out 870 Shotgun barrels is yet another reason that the 870 has undergone minimal design change in the past 65 years.
Its predecessor, the Model 31, sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 units. When young Eliphalet Remington started making a better flintlock barrel in his father’s forge way back in 1816, I’ll bet he would never have dreamed of selling one thousand guns much less 200,000. But 20% of a million was nothing for the 870 line.
By 1966, the company had sold one million 870 shotguns. This date coincided nicely with the 150th anniversary of Eliphalet’s first work on the forge. Just seven years later, in October 1973, Remington hit the two million sold mark, and things really started to move. In 1978, the number hit three million and grew to four million by 1984. Millions begat more millions and by 2009, the 10 million shotgun milestone had been left in the dust.
Remington 870 Shotgun Models and Variants
The first 15 models introduced covered the gamut of use cases with models for tournament, trap, skeet, field and even police use. While there was no budget Express line in the early years, Remington was not shy about offering premium Wingmasters with all the fixin’s.
In 1955, the company went magnum and started to make the 12-gauge model with a three-inch chamber. During that year, the line stuck to the big three calibers and was limited to 12, 16 and 20-gauge choices. The distinctive “corn cob” forend started to give way to the more elegantly shaped stock on Deluxe models. The corn cob stock never had a hard and fast switch over date as it was offered on police models for quite some time after.
Four years later, the company added slug gun variants to the line for the four-legged critter hunting market, showing the versatility of the 870 platform. Still priced at less than a hundred bucks, the rifled barrel models were equipped with a front bead and rear rifle sight.
1969 was a big year, and not just because Al Gore invented ARPANET, Neil and Buzz did the moon walk, and many young people got stoned at Woodstock. That year, Remington finally added some new calibers with the introduction of 28-gauge and .410 bore models, apparently because standard ammunition was not expensive enough.
Since things were hot in Vietnam during this time, Remington contracted with the United States Marine Corps to produce thousands of Model 870 Mk-1 variants in 12-gauge. These combat-ready 870s included 7-shell magazine tubes and bayonet attachments.
During the 1970s, some interesting, and attractive variants hit the market. As a result of a shortage of American Walnut, Remington started to use mahogany stocks on certain 20, 28 and .410 models. More reddish in color, and found by many to have more attractive grain, it’s not as durable as walnut, hence the use on the lighter guns in the family. If you’ve got one with mahogany furniture, hold on to it. While not incredibly rare, they are worth somewhat more than identical walnut-stocked versions. By 1979, the company had moved back to Walnut across the board.
In 1987, the company introduced the Express line. A less-polished version, these were intended to hit a lower price point in the market. Accordingly, the metal was matte finished, and wood got much less attention in the polishing stages. Purists were a bit upset with the budget offering while budget conscious users and big box retailers rejoiced.
In 1992, the company launched the Model 870 Marine Magnum Security shotgun (see image above). Why do I call this particular model out among all the hundreds of variants? It looked really cool with its nickel-finished metal and synthetic stock. Always wanted one of those. Fortunately, they’re still in the catalog.
In 1998 the company elected to give masochists what they wanted: a 3 ½-inch Magnum Model 870. 3 ½-inch Magnum shells from a pump gun? No thanks for me, but for those who want it, you can have it.
Remington 870 Shotgun Current Lineup
As I write this, Remington still offers a goodly variety of 870 models. Not counting the specific law enforcement model and bore variants, there are 32 different 870 shotguns in the Remington 870 catalog.
You can still get a classic Wingmaster, complete with blued receiver and barrel and American walnut furniture. Or, you might consider the new for 2014 American Classic. These feature high-grade wood, gold-inlaid engraving, checkering and touches like grip caps and classic ventilated recoil pads.
If you want to go turkey or tactical, you can check out some of the purpose-built pistol grip models like the Model 870 Express ShurShot Synthetic Turkey or Model 870 Express Tactical A-TACS Camo. Whatever your taste, plain or fancy, new or old, it’s hard to go wrong with an Remington 870 Shotgun.
About Tom McHale:
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.