In the greater history of ammunition manufacturing in the United States, there have been many players. The two oldest still existing- Winchester (1866) and Remington (1816), were both founded in the 19th century. In reality, they both were firearms companies to begin with, only later getting into the business of making their own ammunition, whether it be for pistol, rifle or shotgun. Both would purchase ammunition companies already existing, such as when Remington purchased Union Metallic Cartridge Company (rifle and pistol) and Peters Cartridge Company (shotgun shells). By the time the 1900's were rolling around on the calendar, these companies were very well established and could make such investments and acquisitions to maintain any lead necessary to keep competitors in check.
It is unusual, then, that there was a ammunition company that came into existence after the great Industrial Revolution, the leap from black powder to smokeless powder and to the great horrors of one World War. By all accounts, they didn't have a chance against the two titans in existence, who had no rivals in any other country, except for perhaps Eley Cartridge of England. No one today can afford the position (liability insurance costs alone reach into the millions) that either Winchester or Remington has bought, fought and lasted through. So when Charles L. Horn assumed control of what was a little known, regional company in Anoka, Minnesota, he really must have had a vision. The name of that ammunition facility was known as the Federal plant. We know it as the Federal Cartridge Company. And today, it is one of the "big three" American ammunition companies- sitting along side Winchester and Remington as equals.
When Mr. Horn took control of the plant, he realized that in order to survive, the company needed to get their products into as many places and hands as possible. The problem was that there were no mass market stores into which he could get his products. There weren't Wal-Marts in 1922 and there weren't going to be until 50 years later. Instead, realizing Federal was not in a position of strength (unlike Winchester and Remington), Horn decided to try alternate routes than regular sporting goods stores or general stores. Gas stations, hardware stores, dentists' offices and even barbershops. While I can't fathom why a dentist would carry a brand of shotgun shells (thinking from a mindset of today), apparently this strategy worked. The word got around and eventually the product made its way to all parts of the country.
In the beginning, Federal began by making only shotgun shells, not eschewing rifle and pistol cartridges; rather, they did not have the facility to make them. Since it is easier to manufacture shotgun shells, and you have to start somewhere, this was the natural point.
Really coming into its own after World War I, Federal missed a large opportunity due to the war needs of the time. It would not be late to the dance with the Second World War, at a time when America needed every bullet it could get. And they got them. Federal now has its own lines of standard rifle and pistol loads, both centerfire and rimfire, and still continues with its tradition of manufacturing some of the best target shotshells ever made, having recently done so with the fairly recent success at the 1996 Summer Olympics — their shells helped to bring home gold, silver and bronze medals to the United States.
In terms of the shotshell production, Federal is known for its paper shells, a material that was used for hulls for a long time and eventually replaced by the much more durable (and especially watertight) plastics. But somehow, Federal has been the only company to survive the demise of the paper shotshell. In fact, they seem to have benefited from it because there are a devoted number of shotgun shooters who still enjoy and purchase the paper shotshells, which, of course, command a higher price due to the manufacturing process (you can make more plastic shells in x amount of time than you can paper). Couple this with the fact that demand for them has decreased with the overall amount of shooters in general (most people prefer plastic), it is really a wonder they produce them. But they do, and they are considered some of the best shotshells on the planet.
Releasing what they call their Federal Premium Ammunition series, Federal has taken the best of all the components, such as Nosler bullets and matched them with their tried and true loading equipment and manufactures some of the best centerfire cartridges today. Their Gold Medal series of shells are match grade quality and are used by many people training for the Olympics.
This isn't bad for a company that really got started in 1922. Of course, Federal never manufactured a firearm, like the other companies, but even today Winchester has sold off its gun manufacturing business/rights and Remington is the last one to continue to manufacture both ammunition and firearms. Even Remington may just make nothing but ammunition in the future. Time will tell.
Now, Federal is owned by the giant defense firm of Alliant Techsystems (purchased in 2001). It is still committed to quality products and still manufactures ammunition for the military. With the resources of Alliant at hand, it will be interesting to see where this company goes next.
For more information on the history of Federal, please visit the following site: http://federalcartridge.com/