Just recently I heard from a spokesman at Crosman Corporation that, after nearly 70 years, the Sheridan air rifle has been discontinued. Crosman will, however, continue to make .20 caliber pellets.
The Sheridan enjoys a long and glorious history that stretches back to the 1940s.
Note: for a lot of what follows, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Ted Osborn who was a beady-eyed, totally-committed, non-in-the-twelve-step-program Sheridan fanatic. Ted conducted hundreds of hours of research and interviews into the history of Sheridan and in 2004 was extraordinarily generous of his time in helping me prepare an article about the Sheridan for The Accurate Rifle magazine. Sadly, Ted passed away at home on February 16, 2011. I still miss our phone calls, his hearty baritone, and his ready laugh. He once drove from Ithaca, NY, to my house to allow me to shoot all three grades of classic Sheridans.
In 1943 Ed Wackerhagen and his friend Bob Kraus thought they could build a better airgun, so they set about designing and building one. By mid-1944, they had completed a prototype. On June 20, at 9:30 am, the two men pumped and loaded their creation and launched a pellet at a block of wood a few feet away. The pellet buried itself in the wood, and it was time for celebration: their gun worked! The block of wood was dated and signed and tucked into Kraus’ pocket.
By 1947, advertisements appeared in the magazines of the day, offering the Sheridan pneumatic air rifle (known as the Model A Super Grade) for sale for the princely sum of $56.50. That was a lot of money for an air rifle back then. For the same price, you could purchase a Winchester model 94 30-30. But never mind, an American classic, manufactured in Racine, Wisconsin, had been born, a classic that endures to this day.
The Sheridan Super Grade was a .20 caliber (all Sheridans were .20 caliber.) multi-stroke pneumatic air rifle. It had a large cast and machined aluminum receiver, bronze barrel and pump tube, walnut stock with Monte Carlo cheek-piece, ball-type valve mechanism, adjustable trigger and peep sight. It weighed 5 pounds 14 ounces, stretched 37 inches overall, with a 20-inch barrel with one turn in 12 inches.
About 800 Super Grades were produced that first year. Over the six few years, total production would amount to 2130 units. Today, a Sheridan Super Grade is among the most sought-after collectable airguns, and you might pay as much as 10 times the original price for one.
In the April 1947, in American Rifleman magazine, Major General Julian S. Hatcher reviewed the Sheridan and said, “The accuracy of this gun is superb . . . Here is a gun which is capable of real target shooting, is deadly on small pests, and is a real pleasure to shoot. It is a quality job all the way through.” He reported velocity of 400 fps with just two pumps and 770 fps with 12 pumps (which is not recommended).
In 1948, the company introduced the Model B Sporter, a lower priced gun that sold for about $35. It had various changes, including no cheek-piece and a painted finish, to keep costs down. During the three years that this model was produced, only 1051 were built, making the Model B highly sought by collectors.
The Model C first reached the public in 1949 and has been in continuous production until now. The Silver Streak was introduced first. It had a nickel finish that was beautifully polished, a walnut Manlicher stock, and a hold-down safety. It cost $19.95. The Blue Streak, with a black oxided finish, was introduced a few years later. Various versions of the Streaks would be produced over the years: the hold-down safety, the rocker safety, and the modern push-pull safety. No one knows exactly how many Streaks have been produced in total, but it is over half a million.
In 1977, the Benjamin company, which also manufactured air rifles, acquired Sheridan after Ed Wackerhagen’s death. Benjamin management ran the Sheridan from afar until 1982, when Benjamin closed its plant in St. Louis and merged the two businesses in a new plant on Chicory Road in Racine.
Along the way, Ray Katt had bought Benjamin-Sheridan from the Spack family, and he now began homogenizing the two air rifle lines. The pistols were first: they became Benjamin-Sheridan pistols. Next, the two pump-up rifle lines began moving toward each other until there were only minor cosmetic differences separating the two.
In 1992, the operation was purchased by Crosman Corporation. About a year-and-a-half later, the Racine plant was closed and production was moved to East Bloomfield, NY. Now the guns were identical except for caliber.
To be continued in Part II.
Til then, aim true and shoot straight.
– Jock Elliott