UP Tour – Gladstone: Webster Marble and his lasting impact on the outdoors

Michigan

GLADSTONE, Mich (WJMN) — Inventor and entrepreneur Webster Marble created outdoor products that have been used by millions of people all over the globe and are still in use now, even a century after he sketched them in his notebook.

He called Gladstone, just north of Escabana, home.

“Marble Arms started in 1892 and we’re going into our 130th year next year, and we’ve made all kinds of outdoor products over the years. Most famously, we’re known for knives and axes, but we’ve been making gun sights that entire time,” said Craig Lauerman, the vice president and owner of Marble Arms.

Marble arrived in Gladstone in 1887 with his wife and young son. In 1892, he opened the Gladstone Manufacturing Company in a shed behind his house, where he manufactured the Universal Rifle Sight.

One year later in 1893, he made his first Pocket Axe but was forced to close his business due to the financial panic that year. While he returned to his surveying and his timber cruising job, Marble also patented the Safety Pocket Axe in 1898 under the company name Marble Safety Axe Company.

In 1902, he introduced his improved Front Sight, the product that started it all for him 10 years prior.

Marble’s products were wildly popular even among celebrities. President Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh were just a few people of the many people who favored these high-quality items.

“Over the years, Marble has made knives, hatchets, which some call that safety axe that has a guard that comes up over the blade,” Lauerman said. “When Mr. Marble was a timber cruiser, he invented a lot of items for the outdoorsman — so he had waterproof match safes, fish gaffes that closed down on the fish to hold it in place, even trout nips, brass compasses, broken shell extractors. A lot of unique items, but then the knives are probably the most popular and we made gun sights since day one.”

Though Marble would go on to hold over 60 patents of outdoorsman products that are still used to this day, his gun sights have been the backbone of the company for more than a century.

“So we buy bar stock and 12-foot bars and we feed it into the machines,” Lauerman said. “We program our CNC machines to do all the machining and the part comes off complete. We do some polishing or secondary operations to it. It goes into what we call black oxide or gun bluing tank and turns it black and then we do any kind of assembling or painting, and that goes out the door.”

Even 90 years after Marble’s death, Marble Arms manufactures and continues to supply gun sights to most American gun makers.

“No matter where I go, someone walks up to me and says, ‘Hey, I worked there, my parents work there, my grandparents worked there, I own a knife, I own your sights, I have a collection of this,'” Lauerman said. “Historically, we have all kinds of people who have used our equipment all over the world, and it’s just kind of interesting to have that a part of our history and that we own a part of that history. Even though we’re focused every day on new stuff, the old stuff is really cool.”

Marble has been dubbed the inventor of the outdoors due to the lasting impact his inventions made.

The Delta County Chamber of Commerce has created a Webster Marble Museum to showcase a collection of products, inventions and materials that have been collected for the past nearly 40 years. For more information on that museum, click here.

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