April 2000:

Ithaca Model 37 Pump Action Shotgun Type:  Pump Action Shotgun
System of Operation:  Manual slide reciprocation
Caliber:  12 gauge (16 and 20 gauges available as well)
Capacity:  Underbred tube magazine, 5 or 8 rounds 
Sights: Bead front, Deerslayer Model: Elevation adjustable notch rear, blade front
Length: 45" - 53" (varying barrel lengths)
Weight (unloaded): 6 - 7 lbs (varying barrel lengths)
Barrel: 20"  - 28"  (varying barrel lengths)
The Ithaca Gun Company produced its first shotgun in 1883.  By 1937, the company had over fifty years of experience in manufacturing sporting shotguns.  It was in that year that the company unveiled its newest offering, the Model 37 Repeater.   The Model 37 was destined to be a huge success, assuring Ithaca Gun Company a place in firearms history.  However, the path that ultimately led to the Model 37 was not a little tortuous.  This article deviates from the general technical bent of the Historic Firearm of the Month series in that it focuses chiefly on legal and intellectual property issues that impacted the design and eventual marketing of this historic gun.

As early as 1914, the Ithaca Gun Company's management realized that public's growing appetite for repeating and self-loading shotguns posed a threat to their traditional double gun business.  Consequently, Claude Smith, one of Ithaca's owners, traveled to Toledo, Ohio to purchase the rights to patent number 1,084,775.  This was a patent for a "repeating firearm known as a pump gun," and was to be purchased from the Union Arms Company, which was going out of business.  The purchase agreement also included tools, fixtures, and both completed and uncompleted guns for the Union Arms Company Model 60 repeating shotgun.  Ithaca never produced a firearm based on this patent.

Ithaca Gun began to actively seek involvement in the pump gun market in 1930.  On May 27th of that year, Ithaca Gun requested its patent attorney, Theodore K. Bryant, to conduct a patent infringement investigation into both the Winchester Model 12 shotgun and the Remington Model 17 shotgun.  In the event, the 20 gauge Remington Model 17 shotgun was chosen to be of interest to Ithaca Gun because John Moses Browning's patents used on the gun were set to expire on June 15th, 1932, thus allowing Ithaca to manufacture and sell the gun after that date, and Remington was going to discontinue the gun in 1932.   Once the decision was taken to use the Remington Model 17 as the basis for the new Ithaca repeater, design work began almost immediately.  Cost estimates for the necessary jigs, fixtures, tools, lathes, profilers, etc., came to approximately $55,575.00.

On October 31, 1930, a 12 gauge version of the new gun was shipped to the patent attorney's office with the instructions "to look it over and advise us just as soon as possible whether or not is is your opinion that we can manufacture and sell said gun after the expiration of J.M. Browning's patent #1,143,170 of June 15th, 1915."  The new Ithaca pump shotgun contained the shell extractor and the inline firing pin described in the patent "Firing Mechanism for a Pump Gun" issued to a Mr. Harry Howland on March 15, 1932.  Additionally, the Ithaca shotgun eliminated the milled steps at the forward sides of the receiver that was characteristic of the Remington Model 17.  With the exception of these changes, the Ithaca gun was little more than a 12 gauge version of the Remington Model 17.
Comparison of the Ithaca Model 37 Lockwork to that of the Remington Model 17
Image Credit:  Snyder, Walter Claude, Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters, (Cook and Uline Publishing, Southern Pines, North Carolina,: 1998) Page 23
The Remington Model 17 (right) and the new Ithaca Repeater (left) were very similar.  Action schematics of the Model 17 from a 1923 Remington catalogue and the Ithaca Repeater submitted with the Howland patent application illustrate how similar the two guns were.

Ithaca Gun's patent attorney reported back indicating that after the June 15th, 1932 expiration of the Browning patent, no further patent related obstacles would prevent the manufacture of the new gun.
Ithaca Experimental Model 33 Pump Shotgun

Image Credit:  Snyder, Walter Claude, Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters, (Cook and Uline Publishing, Southern Pines, North Carolina,: 1998) Page 24

Based on this information, Ithaca management went ahead with plans to unveil the "Ithaca Model 33 Repeater."  However, all was not in order. . .A Mr. A.A. Dicke was a personal friend of Paul Livermore, one of the officers of the Ithaca Gun Company.  Mr. Dicke was also a patent attorney for the Remington Arms Company.  Mr. Dicke became aware of Ithaca Gun's interest in producing a pump shotgun when the Howland 
patent was issued in 1932.  He sent a series of letters to both Ithaca Gun and its patent attorney, Theodore K. Bryant, indicating that Remington had been paying royalties to Mr. J.D. Pedersen for the use of his patent during the manufacture of the Model 17.  Remington had begun manufacture of the Model 17 in 1917, assuming that only the Browning patent applied to the design.  Later, in the 1925 - 26 time frame, Mr. Pedersen submitted evidence to the effect that his patent, number 1,317,988 "read" on the Browning design.  In resolution of the matter Remington paid Pedersen a sum of money which included a royalty for each gun produced.  Apparently, this Pedersen patent was as much of a surprise to Remington as it later turned out to be for Ithaca.  There is speculation that the Pedersen patent had been lost or misplaced at the Patent Office for a number of years, thus explaining why patent attorneys from both Ithaca and Remington were unable to find it.  Based on the validity of the Pedersen patent, all work on the "Model 33" was immediately halted.

After patiently biding its time waiting for the Pedersen patent to expire, Ithaca Gun again contacted Mr. Bryant the patent attorney on September 2, 1936, stating:

We understand that said Pedersen patent expires on October 7, 1936 and becomes public property on that date.  It is our conclusion, therefore, that the Howland patent will be free from infringement on both the Pedersen and the Browning patents, they having expired and therefore became public property.  We have under consideration and have practically decided to offer the Repeating gun described in the Howland patent for sale on or about January 1, 1937.
After another patent infringement investigation, Mr. Bryant found no reason to prevent the manufacture and marketing of the Ithaca Repeater based on the Howland patent.  The Ithaca Model 37 was finally ready for prime time!  Deliveries of the Model 37 Repeater began in April 1937.  Since that time the Model 37 has been made in 12, 16, and 20 gauge, and in just about every configuration imaginable, from Standard, Skeet, or Trap grade guns with 26" or 28" barrels, ventilated ribs, and highly polished receivers to the rifle-sighted Deerslayer versions, and the specialized military and police Models.  The Ithaca Model 37 compares favorably with even the most modern pump action shotguns available, and is distinguished by its light weight, solid construction, and short, smooth operating mechanism stroke.


Snyder, Walter Claude, Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters, (Cook and Uline Publishing, Southern Pines, North Carolina,: 1998)

Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters  is available from IDSA Books.  Click on the image to order:
Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters

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