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Bear Archery History - Key Milestones

  • 1902 - Fredrick Bernard Bear born in Pennsylvania
  • 1927 - Fred meets famous bowhunter Art Young in Detroit and becomes friends
  • 1933 - Bear Products Company opens in Detroit making archery equipment as a sideline
  • 1937 - Fred Bear patents first bow glove
  • 1937 - Bear hires Nels Grumley to begin making bows under the name "Bear Products by Grumley"
  • 1940 - Bear Products is split into two companies, with Fred retaining the archery business and his partner keeping the automotive business. The archery business begins using the name Bear Archery Company
  • 1942 - Bear produces first Bear hunting movie
  • 1946 - Bear patents first bow quiver
  • 1947 - Bear opens a new plant in Grayling, Michigan and moves all operations there
  • 1948 - Bear Archery produces TV and record cabinets for Admiral Corp. in an effort to make ends meet
  • 1948 - Nels Grumley leaves Bear over plans to being machine making bows.
  • 1949 - Bear begins mass production of bows in Grayling, the Polar, Grizzly, and Kodiak. These first bows are laminated with a layer of Aluminum salvaged from WWII.
  • 1950 - Last full year for the Aluminum lamination
  • 1953 - Bear patents the working recurve limb, thus the patent date silk-screened on bows made after that date
  • 1954 - The first working recurve bow made by Bear is marketed, the Kodiak II, or Compass Kodiak.
  • 1956 - Bear markets his Bear Razorhead broadhead for the first time.
  • 1959 - First year for the coin medallion in the bow risers
  • 1967 - Fred Bear museum opens in Grayling, Michigan; closes in 2003 and collections sold to Bass Pro Shops
  • 1968 - Fred sells Bear Archery Company to Victor Comptometer
  • 1970 – After tinkering with takedowns for years, Bear begins selling Bear Take-Down; stops after two years due to low sales
  • 1972 – Fred Bear part of the first group of inductees into the Archery Hall of Fame, along with Ben Pearson, Ann Hoyt, and Howard Hill
  • 1977 - Kidde Corp. takes over Victor Comptometer
  • 1978 – Labor strike results in closure of Grayling plant, and operations move to Gainesville, Florida
  • 1988 - Fred Bear passes away
  • 2003 After spending a year in bankruptcy proceedings, the North American Archery Group in Gainesville was been bought out by an Indiana-based sporting goods company that operates as a subsidiary of Escalade Sports.

Bear Bow Manufacture History

  • Wood Handle Take-Down 1969-1972
  • Wood C-Riser Victor Custom 1973-1975
  • Magnesium Handle Take-Down A-B-C 1971-1978
  • Kodiak Static Recurve 1950-1953
  • Kodiak Recurve 1954-1966
  • Super Kodiak 1967-1976
  • Grizzly Static Recurve 1949-1957
  • Grizzly Recurve 1958-1978
  • Super Magnum 48 1966-1976
  • Kodiak Magnum 52" 1961-1977
  • Kodiak Hunter 58" and 60" 1967-1977
  • Tamerlane 1962-1968
  • Tamerlane HC-30 1965-1967
  • Tamerlane HC-300 1968-1972
  • Kodiak Special 1955-1967
  • Temujin 1968-1970
  • Tartar 1968-1972
  • Victor Patriot 1973-1977
  • Victor 1972
  • Polar (recurve) 1957-1970
  • Alaskan (leather grip semi-recurve) 1959-1961
  • Alaskan (recurve) 1966-1970
  • Tigercat 1964-1978
  • Bearcat 1964-1971
  • Panda 1964-65
  • Black Bear 1972-1978
  • Little Bear 1965-1978

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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: 

  1. The Serial Number: These bows usually have, what appears to be a hand inscription on one of the limbs that gives a serial number along with the length and pull weight of the bow. This serial number works very well for dating Bear Bows from 1965-1969 when the first digit of the serial number is the year of manufacture. For example, a serial number of 5L212 would be a 1965 Bow.  Prior to 1965, the serial numbers for all Bear bows were started over every month, making these bows almost impossible to date by serial number alone. The "K" series of serial numbers (for example KZ9672) were started in 1970.
  2. Patent Mark: Most of the BEAR Bows we have sold have the logo and the US Patents printed on it along with the date of CANADA 1953. This date that is printed on all bows made between 1953 and 1972 is simply the date of the patent for a working recurve limb and has nothing to do with the actual model year.
  3. Decals & Silkscreening: In 1948 the small Running Bear decal was first and then was replaced by the large Standing Bear decal in mid-1953. The large Standing Bear decal also has the words "Glass Powered Bow" under the Standing Bear.  The large Standing Bear decal was used until 1955 when it was replaced with silk-screening the identification on the bows. By 1956 the silk-screening appeared on all bows.
  4.  All Wood vs Laminate:  If your bow is ALL wood (no laminations of any kind) then your bow had to be made before the mass productions beginning in 1949.  If the ALL wood bow has a stamp that reads "Bear Products" in some form it would have been made before the early to mid 40's.  If it is stamped "Bear Archery" it would have been made AFTER the early-mid 40's and BEFORE 1949. Also wooden bows with a small "Running Bear" decal can be dated to 1948
  5. The Leather Grip: ALL Bear bows had leather grips until 1959. In 1959, the Kodiak Special removed the leather grip and in 1961 the Kodiak did the same, as well as the Grizzly in 1964.
  6. The Coin Medallion: Beginning in 1959 all Bear bows had a coin medallion of one type of metal or another.  The following are the approximately 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.Manufacturer Location: in 1978 Bear moved all manufacturing and offices to Gainesville, Florida. If your bow shows Gainesville on it then it was made after 1978. 

Fred Bear