Bear Archery History - Key Milestones
Bear Bow Manufacture History
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Bear Archery was founded by Fred Bear and Charles Piper in Detroit Michigan in 1933 as the Bear Products Company. The initial focus was on silk-screening and advertising support work for automotive companies. In 1938 Bear hired Nels Grumley, a woodworker and bowyer, and the company expanded to offer hand-made bows. Nels was a fantastic craftsman, and his skills were reflected in the quality of the bows he made. Early on each and every bow which Nels made was either stamped or signed with his name, along with the words "Bear Products by Grumley" or "Bear Archery by Grumley".
Fred Bear sold the advertising side of the Bear Products Company in 1940 to focus on archery. The archery business was renamed Bear Archery. In 1947 the company moved to a new facility in Grayling, Michigan. The Grayling plant focused on making and marketing recurve bows and longbows. After observing Ben Pearson’s successful efforts to machine make bows, Bear changed from hand-made bows to mass produced bows using fiberglass and other modern materials.
Automation did not sit well with Grumley, Bear’s principal old-school bowyer. Grumley knew that mass producing bows by machines instead of individually crafting every bow by hand was not what he wanted, and despite Bear’s attempt at retaining him, Grumley left Bear in 1948. Nels started his own bow making business. However, his private venture lasted only two years before he took a job as a model maker for an appliance manufacturer. Not all Bear bows made in these early years were made by Nels. There were dozens of other bowyers who made Bear wooden bows, mostly the lower line lemonwood models such as the Ranger. These bows were simply marked "Bear Archery" in a written form. After Grumley’s departure, Bear began using the famous “Running Bear” decal.
Upon Nels departure, Fred moved another employee by the name of Bob Meeker over to supervise the manufacturing of the new bow lines. Even though bows were then largely the result of machine work, Bob came to be considered a fine bowyer in his own right.
The first new bow model which was introduced in 1949 after Nels’ departure was the Grizzly. The Polar and Kodiak were introduced in the following year, 1950.
Fred had been tinkering with take-apart and take-down bows of different styles for 30 years when in the mid-1960’s he began working on a new design that would require no tools for assembling/disassembling the limb and riser sections. Finally, in August 1969 the Bear Take-Down recurve went into production, appearing for the first time in the 1970 catalog. Unfortunately, the TD did not sell well and the line was discontinued after just 2 years.
Fred was an avid hunter and promoter. By traveling the world and producing films about bow hunting, Bear’s name and face became famous among archers and hunters. Bear was hands on with design, development and manufacturing processes at his company. Archery equipment was carefully examined and tested by men who had expertise in bow making, and many years of experience in the industry. Bear obtained a patent for something called “Glass Power” which was Fiberglas strands bonded together and running full length on every bow. Skilled workmanship, top quality material and precision machines resulted in a high demand for these well-crafted bows. Bear’s various models of the Kodiak bow became best sellers, and are still highly valued today.
Fred Bear sold the company to Victor Comptometer in 1968, but remained president. From 1968 to today, Bear has changed ownership a half-dozen times.
Bear wrote or played a major role in three books during his lifetime. The first was The Archer’s Bible in 1968. Many thousands of copies of this book were sold for many years after it's introduction. The next book was "Fred Bear’s Field Notes", first published in 1976. It details many of Fred’s remarking hunting adventures. The third book was "Fred Bear’s World of Archery", published in 1979. This was a comprehensive book about archery and Fred’s involvement with it. red Bear was also the first president of Michigan's oldest archery club, Detroit Archers.
Fred struggled with chronic emphysema later on in life, and suffered a heart attack while living in Florida and was admitted to a hospital in Gainesville. He remained in the hospital for a month, and died after another heart attack on April 27, 1988. His body was cremated, and his ashes spread near the AuSable River in Northern Michigan, where he liked to flyfish.
The Coin Medallion: Beginning in 1959 all Bear bows had a coin medallion of one type of metal or another. Below are the approx date ranges for the type of coin used.
Copper Coin – 1959
Aluminum - 1960-1961
Pewter – 1962
Brass - 1963 – 1970
Nickel-Silver - 1971-1972
ALL coins were flush with the wood until 1972. In late 1972 the coin was raised above the surface of the bow and came in both gold and chrome covered plastic and are still used in Bear bows today.
Helps For Identifying the Age of a Bear Bow
There are several features and changes that were made to the bear bows over the years that will help narrow the age of a Bear bow: