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[Samuel] Cummings didn’t make a massive fortune just by shuffling arms from one conflict zone to another. His real innovation was discovering there was a massive market among Americans for military surplus guns.

In the 1960s, American manufacturers such as Winchester and Remington made fine rifles—but at $100–$150 new, they were comparatively expensive. Interarms started a mail-order catalog, ‘Hunters Lodge,’ that sold some military surplus rifles for as little as $9.95 (about $80 today, adjusting for inflation). They were literally marketed as “throwaway guns” a hunter could abandon in the woods after bagging his deer. It was the domestic demand for guns that caused his warehouses in Alexandria [Virginia] to reach peak capacity.

Also of interest is how his guns arrived in Alexandria in the first place. When Cummings started buying up warehouses in the only non-union port on the East Coast, there was just one other major company using the port: The Washington Post. Cummings struck a deal with the same Finnish shipping line that brought the paper its newsprint to also pick up his arms shipments. For years, the Post subsidized an unholy percentage of the world’s small arms traffic.

Interarms’ commercial peak ended in 1968, when Congress, prodded by domestic gun manufacturers upset over their lost market share, passed a law prohibiting the import of military surplus guns. (It didn’t help that Lee Harvey Oswald had assassinated JFK with a cheap mail-order Italian rifle.)

Fortunately for Cummings, by then he also had a firm grip on the international arms trade. He was eagerly sought out for his ability to seemingly conjure weapons out of thin air. When the Sudanese ceremonial camel corps needed new lances, he just happened to have some World War I–era German lances made of blue steel in an Alexandria warehouse.

— Mark Hemingway in The All-American Arms Dealer



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