Sig Sauer is a true American success story, even if its story began in Rhine Falls, Switzerland in 1853 when it was founded as the maker of wagons. Its first foray into firearms came in 1864 when it received a contract to produce 30,000 muzzleloading Prelaz-Burnand rifles for the Swiss Army. It quickly expanded its product line, and as the Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (Swiss Industrial Company)—or SIG—it was one-half of what became a firearms giant.
The other half was the first and oldest German firearms manufacturer and produced mostly high-quality civilian hunting weapons. In 1751 J.P. Sauer and Sohn GmBH (Sauer & Sohn) was founded in Suhl, Thuringia (in modern central Germany). Over the next two centuries, it produced firearms for civilians, but also for the armies of Central Europe including Prussia, Bavaria, and Austria. After the unification of Germany, Sauer produced weapons for the German military including the Karabiner 98K rifle, and later it was instrumental in the development of the StG44, the world's first assault rifle.
A version of the company continued to operate in East Germany as VEB Ernst Thälmann and produced the StG44 for the Volkspolizei. However, Rolf-Dietrich Sauer was among those who saw the limited opportunities of life under the communist regime, and he moved to West Germany where he established a new version of the company. It produced a range of hunting rifles and later pistols and in the process became among the first post-World War II German arms manufacturers to build a large export market.
Merger of Two Giants
Switzerland had remained neutral throughout both World Wars, yet SIG continued to produce weapons for the Swiss military, and that included the revolutionary P210, the precursor to the popular P220 handgun. During the 1970s, however, Swiss law prevented wider export of the P-series handguns, so in 1976 the Swiss firm partnered with the German J.P Sauer and Sohn.
Less than a decade after the Swiss-German partnership, the company expanded to the United States and opened SIGARMS in Tyson's Corner, Virginia in the Washington metropolitan area—where it imported the P220 and P230 pistols. The company moved to a larger location in Herndon, Virginia in 1987, the same year it introduced the P225 in 9mm. That was followed by the P226 and P228. The company moved its American headquarters to New Hampshire in 1990, and in 2007 changed its name to Sig Sauer. Today it has more than 800 U.S. employees, and all but five of its products are manufactured in the United States.
International deals, including a $72 million contract with the Indian military in 2019 for some 72,400 rifles, along with dozens of other police and military contracts, have allowed the company to grow and become the largest U.S. exporter of firearms. Today the company provides firearms to police and military forces in more than 80 countries. In 2017, Sig Sauer shipped more than 179,000 pistols and rifles around the globe—accounting for more than one-third of all U.S. firearms exports.
Sig Sauer, whose motto remains "Never Settle," also continues to tout the fact that it was "born in Europe, perfected in America."
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.