The first American slide-action or “pump” shotgun was made by Spencer Arms in 1882. Winchester picked up on the concept with the Winchester Model 1893. That gun proved problematic and was soon replaced with the Model 1897—and over one million would be sold. Marlin had its 1898 model. Near the end of the century, it was clear the pump-action shotgun was here to stay.
Remington was undergoing some hard times back then. In 1886 they had been placed in receivership and remained there for two years. In 1888, Hartley & Graham, owners of Union Metallic Cartridge Company (UMC) and Winchester Repeating Arms, joined forces and acquired joint ownership of E. Remington and Sons. They renamed it Remington Repeating Arms Company.
Winchester, Remington’s main rival, now owned half of the company, which explains why Remington never entered the lucrative lever-action rifle market. In fact, in 1892 Remington let a guy named Arthur Savage use its facilities to develop his lever-action rifle. It could be assumed that they wanted to produce the gun, yet they never introduced it. Instead, Savage formed his own company and the Model 99 Savage rifle became one of the most historically important and successful lever-actions rifles ever made.
Winchester was also preventing Remington from entering the emerging pump-action shotgun market. Its association ended in 1896, which freed Remington to developing one.
A few years later, a Denver-based gun designer named John D. Pedersen was issued patents for a unique pump-action shotgun. Remington soon joined with him, launching one of the more historical partnerships in gun history. Pedersen became synonymous with many Remington gun designs.
Remington announced its first pump-action shotgun under his leadership in 1908. They named it the Remington Model 1908 Repeating Shotgun, and announced it would be ready for delivery in early1908.
In 1909, the Remington Catalog listed the gun as a “Pump Action Repeating Shotgun,” with no mention of a model number. In 1911 the name was changed to the Model 10.
In 1921 Remington announced that John Browning had designed the Model 17 in 20 gauges. (That design was later adapted by Ithaca into the Ithaca 37) The Model 29 replaced the Model 10 in 1929, but that shotgun had a short run. When Dupont took over Remington in 1933 they dropped the gun.
The Model 31 came out in 1931, during the Great Depression. It was a fine shotgun, but it struggled to compete with the Winchester Model 12. The Model 31 was Remington’s first side-ejecting repeating shotgun. It was made in 35 variations and was used by the military during WWII for aerial gunnery training.
Using parts from the Remington Model 11-40 autoloader, the design team of L. Ray Crittendon, Phillip Haskell, Ellis Hailston, and G.E. Pinckney developed a new pump-action shotgun. Introduced in 1950, this shotgun was called the Model 870 Wingmaster. It would go on to become the single best-selling firearm ever produced by Remington, and the best-selling pump-action shotgun in firearms history.
A Winning Design
The Model 870 breechblock locked into the hardened barrel extension for a strong lock-up. Its dual slide bars made for a smooth, bind-free operation. This five-shot gun was easy to take down for cleaning and was offered with replaceable barrels, so it was extremely versatile.
It would be all but impossible to list all the variations that have been offered in the Model 870 over the years, but it has been configured for every use possible with a shotgun and just about every finish. Stocks have been average wood, very good wood, synthetic, and even folding wires. The finish has run from deep, high-polish blue to camouflage. Hunting, self-defense, military, law enforcement and every single form of competition that uses shotguns has seen an 870 designed for it, including a rifled-barrel Model 870 shotgun for deer hunting.
The Remington Model 870 was the first pump-action shotgun ever to be offered in all five popular shotgun chamberings: .410 bore and 28, 20, 16, and 12 gauge. It’s even offered in 3½-inch 12-gauge magnum. (I have one of those; it’s my go-to turkey gun.)
Sales of the Remington Model 870 reached one million guns in 1966; two million by 1973 (ten times the number of Model 31 shotguns it replaced); three million in 1978; four million in 1984; five million in 1990 and 10 million on April 13, 2009. Today Remington has sold more than 11 million Model 870 shotguns.
The Model 870 has at some time dominated every single shotgun shooting sport or discipline. Trap, skeet, sporting clays, action shotgun, 3-gun…if a competitor is shooting a pump shotgun, odds are that it’s a Remington Model 870.
In 1950, Remington field rep Rudy Etchen took one of the first 12 production Model 870 shotguns to the Grand American Trap Championships. He became the first shooter to ever break a registered 100 straight targets with a pump. The 870 became his gun of choice after that, and he competed with the shotgun so much his nickname became “Mr. 870.”
Rudy made it into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame while shooting an 870. In 1982 he pulled that original 32-year-old 870 out of storage for a “little practice” and shot another 100 straight. In fact, Rudy shot so many 100 straights over the years with an 870 that he lost count.