By: Friedrich Seiltgen
The Sig Sauer company as we know it got its start in 1976, with the merger of Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG) of Switzerland and J.P. Sauer & Sohn of Germany. But the whole Sig Sauer story started long before that.
The first half of the story involves Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft, or SIG for short. In 1853, Friedrich Peyer im Hof, Heinrich Moser, and Conrad Neher founded a wagon factory in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland. Seven years later, they would become one of the world’s most renowned small arms manufacturers. Their wagon factory entered into a contest to develop a rifle for the Swiss military. In 1864, their design won the competition, and the journey began. The founders received a contract to produce 30,000 Prelaz-Burnand muzzle loaders for the Swiss Army, and changed their name to SIG.
Switzerland has existed in its present form since 1848 with the adoption of the Swiss federal constitution. Switzerland has maintained a policy of neutrality and has not fought in a war since 1815. Switzerland was a neutral country during both World Wars and produced weapons for itself and other countries. As a young boy, when I read that Switzerland was neutral, I couldn’t rap my head around that. A small country surrounded by large axis powers, and it was not invaded? That illustrates the power of a militia. Every able-bodied man between the ages of 19 and 34 is a member of the Swiss Militia, issued a machine gun, and 100 rounds of ammunition. They are required to qualify yearly and are allowed to purchase their weapons when they retire!
Part Two of the story is J.P. Sauer & Sohn, the oldest German firearms manufacturer. The company was founded in 1751 by Lorenz Sauer in Suhl, Thüringen, Germany, and produced mostly high-quality hunting firearms. During World War II, J.P. Sauer & Sohn produced the Mauser Karabiner 98K rifle under license from Mauser for the Wehrmacht. The company was also instrumental in the development of the StG44, the world’s first assault rifle!
After the war, a version of the company continued to operate in East Germany as VEB Ernst Thälmann (beloved Communist) Waffenfabrik in Suhl, and continued production of the StG44 & the Luger pistol for the Volkspolizei & STASI. This was a common practice in post-war East Germany. Once the communists took over, they continued operating companies as if nothing had changed. The Carl Zeiss company (optics), continued on as Carl Zeiss Jena, and quality control started to diminish, as did most things in the DDR.
Rolf-Dietrich Sauer moved to West Germany, and in 1951, established J.P. Sauer & Sohn, first in Dusseldorf and then in Eckernförde, West Germany, where It produced hunting rifles and later pistols.
In 1947, the P210 was developed, and in 1949, was adopted by the Swiss military as the Pistole 49. Due to the manufacturing process and design, the P210 was known for its accuracy and reliability. The P220 was a result for the need for a P210 replacement for the Swiss police and military. Designed in 1975, the P220 was built for Browning as the “BDA” and would later be sold as the P210 when Browning ceased sales of the BDA. Although the P220 is known as perhaps the most accurate, out-of-the-box .45 caliber pistol around, it was originally produced in 9mm with the magazine release on the bottom of the grip!
In the 1970s, SIG purchased both Hämmerli and J. P. Sauer and Sohn, which resulted in the formation of Sig Sauer. Sig Sauer's line of handguns began in 1975 with the Sig Sauer SIG P220. During WWII, Sauer produced the Sauer 38H Pistol. The double action trigger mechanism, as well as the decocking lever, were incorporated into the P220.
In January 1985, Sig Sauer established a subsidiary, SIGARMS, in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, to import the P220 and P230 models into the United States. Two years later, the firm moved to a larger facility in Herndon, Virginia, and introduced the “P Models.” I am personally a fan of the P226 and believe it to be one of the finest pistols around. The company moved to a larger location in Herndon, Virginia in 1987, the same year it introduced the P225. That was followed by the P226 and P228. SIGARMS moved to Exeter, New Hampshire in 1990, and in 1992, production began on the P229.
In 2014, Sig Sauer opened a new corporate headquarters and production facility in the city of Newington, New Hampshire. In 2015, Sig Sauer began production on its MCX AR-15 Style rifle which helped propel Sig Sauer production to nearly a half-a-million firearms in 2015.
US Modular Handgun System bid
The U.S. Army needed a replacement for its Beretta M9 service pistol. After the smoke cleared, the Army selected the Sig Sauer M17 as its new official service pistol. In a deal worth about $580 million, Sig Sauer won the contract for the U.S. Army’s new M17 Modular Handgun System in January 2017. The M17, along with its more compact version, the M18, are the military version of the Sig P320. It’s a polymer frame pistol chambered in 9mm with a muzzle velocity of 1,190 feet per second. Sig also eliminated the decocking lever used on many of its firearms and added a frame-mounted safety like the old government model 1911. This allows the pistol to be carried in “condition one,” a chambered round with the safety on.
On July 12, 2018, Sig Sauer announced that the Texas Department of Public Safety has chosen the Sig Sauer P320 as its official service firearm throughout its divisions.
Is Sig Sauer going out of business?
The answer to that is sort of. SIG Sauer GmbH, the German part of Sig Sauer, is shutting down its factory in Eckernförde, Germany. In a press conference, Sig Sauer director Tim Castagne stated that the 130-person workforce at Eckernförde will be laid off, and the plant will close. SIG Sauer GmbH (Limited Liability Company), not to be confused with the US SIG Sauer Inc., is closing. Both the German arm, the U.S.-based company, and the Swiss company Sig Sauer AG (formerly Swiss Arms) are owned by Lüke & Ortmeier Holding Gruppe.
Several factors have led to Sig Sauer GmbH’s closing. Due to Sig weapons being primarily designed and manufactured in the United States, the company is restricted from German weapons sales due to ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) restrictions. In 2017, Sig Sauer’s MCX rifle was excluded from the Bundeswehr’s small arms program to replace the HK G36, due to ITAR restrictions. Castagne said that, “Sig Sauer GmbH is systematically excluded from the tender because of its international orientation.”
The European Union also makes things difficult for arms manufacturers with its increasing regulations. Actually, the European Union makes things more difficult for everyone with its regulations! Another factor was a plea deal between Sig Sauer GmbH and the German government. In 2018, Sig Sauer GmbH was accused of illegally exporting more than 38,000 SP2022 pistols to the US Sig Sauer, which were then exported to Columbian National Guard. SIG stated they did nothing wrong, as the sale was approved by the U.S. State Department. The Coronavirus Plandemic has also played a part with sales slowing in 2020, and Germany is currently phasing in another “lockdown.”
As for SIG SAUER, Inc., the U.S. based division, headquartered in Newington, New Hampshire, has more than 2,300 employees throughout nine facilities in New Hampshire, Arkansas, and Oregon, where the company designs and manufactures firearms, ammunition, optics, suppressors, and air guns.
Further, in New Hampshire, the company operates one of the most advanced training facilities in the world, Sig Sauer Academy.
Sig Sauer, Inc. markets and distributes its U.S. made products in 88 countries. The Sig Sauer, Inc. International Sales Team, based in Europe, will expand its responsibilities to include the German market. German Sports Group (GSG), the current commercial distributor in Germany for Sig Sauer, Inc. optics, ammunition, and air guns will expand its role to include commercial firearm sales in Germany.
And last but not least, one-third of law enforcement agencies in the United States use SIG firearms! So, don’t worry, Sig Sauer isn’t going anywhere!
That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article Ideas. And as always – “Let’s be careful out there!”
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.