Childhood’s first introduction to the outdoors lives in Arkansas
By Michael Roberts
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Just about everyone knows Daisy Airguns—for many of us, the company’s lever-action youth models were our first introduction to learning about firearms and firearm safety. Others know the company from its status as the Holy Grail of Christmas presents in the 1980s holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” For Arkansans, however, the Daisy story is one that holds a special place in the hearts of the Natural State, having been involved in various methods of manufacturing in the Rogers area since 1958.
Daisy Outdoor Products didn’t start in Arkansas—but then again, the company didn’t start as an airgun manufacturer either. The company was founded in Plymouth, Michigan as Plymouth Iron Windmill Company back in 1882, and the airguns that would become its bread and butter were initially just an item given as an incentive to sell more windmills. When the guns proved more popular than the windmills, a change in manufacturing was instituted. It was general manager Lewis Cass Hough who named the company, remarking after firing one of the guns “It’s a daisy!” An icon was born.
After outlasting dozens of competitors in the late 19th century, Daisy rose to great prominence with its 1903 introduction of a nickel-plated, 1,000-shot rifle. In addition to the fine craftsmanship, Daisy also showcased its ability to tap into the imagination and zeitgeist of the time, using a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt to sell their high-capacity gun. “I am not a good shot, but I shoot often,” the President was quoted as saying, to which Daisy’s advertising replied “With a 1,000-shot Daisy Repeater, you can shoot both straight and often.”
After weathering the trials of the Great Depression, Daisy found new heights by partnering with popular comic strip hero Red Ryder—and it is this model airgun that became the legend known throughout the world today (as well as the object of Ralphie’s lust in “A Christmas Story”). Riding this wave of success, Daisy relocated from their antiquated facilities in Michigan to what was then an extremely rural part of the Ozarks: Rogers, Arkansas.
Given the growth and innovation which have become the hallmarks of northwest Arkansas, it can be difficult to remember that just a few decades ago, the area was seen as nothing but a backwater. And while companies like Walmart and Tyson have done an incredible amount of work and philanthropy to bolster the region’s profile, companies like Daisy Outdoor Products have their own place in building Rogers and its surrounding areas into an economic powerhouse. To commemorate this company’s vital presence (which after a short stint in Missouri returned to Arkansas in 2007), the nonprofit Daisy Airgun Museum opened in Rogers in 2004.
Starting with just a few walnut cases of Daisy products (and some help from the city), the Museum staff developed a series of chronological displays to tell the story of these classic airguns. Eventually pairing with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the museum now houses one of the greatest collections of 19th and 20th century airguns in the world.
If you have children who love the outdoors, chances are they’ve already gotten that gleam in their eyes that comes with the first sight of one of Daisy’s airgun products. Rest assured that if they haven’t already, they will. To them, the airguns represent their first step into the wider world of outdoor sport and lifestyle—but each shot fired also represents a piece of Arkansas history, innovation and determination.
For more information on the Daisy Airgun Museum, visit daisymusuem.com.