HISTORY OF BEN PEARSON (Visit the Catalog Section to view Ben Pearson and Sovereign bows)
Ben Pearson is known as the “Father of Modern Archery” and it was many a boy’s dream to receive a Ben Pearson archery set under the Christmas tree or for a birthday gift. Pearson was posthumously inducted into the initial class of for the Archery Hall of Fame alongside other archery greats like Howard Hill, Fred Bear and others.
Manufactured in Pine Bluff, what started in Ben Pearson’s garage in 1931 with a few part-time helpers became within a few years the largest archery equipment company in the world. W.T. Grimm & Company, Independent Auditors from Chicago, Illinois, remarked in 1952 that: “Only 14 years ago this company was organized to manufacture bows and arrows. It soon became the world’s largest and today produces about 50% of all archery equipment sold in the United States.” “Ben Pearson Company pioneered in archery supplies and from a three-man force built their business to where they have more than 600 employees. They are, without question, the largest manufacturer of archery supplies in the world, shipping to every state and many foreign countries.”
At the height of its run in the mid-60s, Ben Pearson Inc. had more than 800 employees at its 15-acre site in Pine Bluff and was manufacturing 3,000-5,000 dozen arrows and 4,000 bows each day. His plant, made up of six buildings, covered 84,000 square feet of floor space.
In a letter provided by his son Ben Pearson Jr., the elder Pearson described his operation to a publication, “Strange As It Seems.” “We use 15 or 20 rail carloads of turkey feather each year to fletch the arrows we manufacture,” Pearson said. It was through his mechanical genius that Ben Pearson’s company became the first in the U.S. to mass-produce a complete line of archery equipment ranging from sets to high-end tournament and hunting gear.
THE STORY OF BEN PEARSON
Ben Pearson was born in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains near Paron Arkansas, in a log cabin, on November 16, 1898. It was a different world growing up in the sticks of rural Arkansas around the turn of the century. Ben’s early life in that world was nearly a short one. He was kicked in the middle of the forehead by an unwary mule that was surprised to feel his tail being pulled by an obnoxious 3-year-old Ben Pearson. His son Ben Pearson Jr. remembers his dad telling him what he did as a child and he replied that ‘he played ball, swam and played with his boyhood neighbors, whittled with his knife and performed regular farm duty chores. I believe for a period of time he lived with an uncle until the family re-settled. He and his brother, Quinna, traveled with their father on business and on one of these trips, according to my late uncle, watched Confederate war veterans perform shooting exhibitions. This left quite an impression on the both of them, according to my uncle.” With only a grammar school education, he became self-taught in electricity and mechanics. His first paying job might have been repairing appliances as a teen. He then worked for some electric companies in Little Rock and North Little Rock until 1927. He was on his way to boot camp in World War when the armistice was signed.
Pearson read an article by Dan Beard, who had been an illustrator for Mark Twain. Beard had many talents but was influential in starting the Boy Scout movement. Beard’s articles on archery appeared in the summer of 1926 and this was the same year Pearson made his first real bow. Pearson was working for an electric company and was on the road a lot but quickly became an archery fanatic, entering tournaments, making equipment for others, founding clubs, etc. With his background in electricity and mechanics, coupled with his love of wood, it just all fell in place for him. His idol was famed inventor Thomas Edison and he greatly admired Henry Ford. It was natural for him to be in a prime position to develop ideas for the mass production of archery equipment. He devoured every piece of archery literature he could lay his hands on. He practiced a lot and refined his equipment. He had become a well-known name in the 30s and shot in national tournaments, placing as high as 7th in 1938.
Pearson’s first bow as a bowyer was a six-foot hickory patterned after the English longbow obtained from instructions in Boy Scout articles written by Dan Beard. Years later, Pearson would author his own instructions for making a flat bow in the Boy Scouts’ Merit Badge Series for Archery.
But Ben Pearson didn’t just want to make bows and arrows, he wanted to shoot them, and after countless hours of practice he got good, very good. He finished next-to-last in the 1926 state archery championships but by his determined resolve, which would take him all the way to the inaugural class of the Archery Hall of Fame, he came back the next year and won it. In 1938, he placed seventh in the National Archery Association’s tournament, but what he really excelled at was exhibition shooting and bow hunting.
Pearson traveled all over North America and Mexico putting on demonstrations and his son said during 1956 Pearson appeared at more than 40 exhibitions and shows across the country, including the nationally-televised Will Rogers Jr. show in New York City. As often as he could, Ben Pearson Jr. as a young lad would travel with his father for various exhibitions. His dad taught his son how to shoot and Pearson, Jr. says they would practice together sometimes up to four hours a day. The young Pearson got so good at trick shots he began to participate with his father during demonstrations. Pearson remembers driving with his father and family in the family’s Ford Galaxy 500 to Mexico City in 1963 to give archery demonstrations at the Latin American Trade Fair where there were several hundred thousand attendees. Pearson says he was in the third grade at the time and recalls the routine at the shows. The Pearson’s would toss rings up in front of targets for each other and as they fell, pin them to the straw. Close to nine-years-old at the time, Pearson Jr. acknowledged he always stood closer than his dad for his shooting, but modestly admits his skill impressed the crowd as well. Sometimes the rings would be filled with balloons and as the demonstration progressed the rings would get smaller, finally ending up with his son tossing up ping-pong balls that Pearson, Sr. would pin to the target from a distance of 30-40 feet. “You know, it might take him one or two shots most of the time. Three, four, or five sometimes, but he would pick them off,” Pearson, Jr. remembers. One memorable demonstration captured on video occurred in a flat bottom boat on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs during an exhibition sponsored by Johnson Motors. Pearson says his father stood in the boat running parallel to another man standing in a separate boat who tossed up ping-pong balls that one of the world’s greatest archers then tattooed.
Famed bowhunter Jim Dougherty, who was a close friend of Ben Pearson, was once asked to describe Ben: “I found Ben to be a very quiet, low key kind of guy though possessed of a dry, entertaining wit. He was a superb archer with uncanny skill on moving targets much like his close friend Howard Hill.” Another close friend, Jack Atkins, said “Ben is a quiet, easy-going man … with a heart as big as his chest. I have watched him befriending children from the frozen wastes above the Arctic Circle to the steaming wilds of Mexico. He’s always the same … immediately establishing a rapport with the little ones.” Don Croft, another friend protégé who was very close to Pearson remarked that” “ Ben Pearson represented the utmost in manhood, honesty and sincerity. He taught me that life is a mixture of good days and bad, victory and defeat, give and take. He taught me that buck-passing always turns out to be a boomerang and that carrying a chip on my shoulder is the best way to get into a fight. I learned from Ben that business could run along perfectly well without me and that it doesn’t matter who gets credit so long as a business prospers. His philosophy was one of great integrity, that the janitor is human and that it didn’t do any harm to smile and say Good morning, even when it was raining. He taught me that hard work and not cleverness is the secret of his success, and that folks are not any harder to get along with in one place than another and that getting along depends about ninety eight percent on my own behavior.”
Ben Pearson did a number of things to promote archery generally, which of course helped sustain his archery business:
A HENRY FORD ADMIRER
Pearson left the electric utility company around 1932 and began making archery equipment, mainly arrows, soon thereafter. This was during the Depression so he was also earning a living through other means as well. But as business grew, he employed at least two individuals to help him. Pearson had formulated his ideas to mass produce archery equipment during this time frame, and though anxious to begin larger scale operations, he lacked the capital to do so and no one he approached was interested in financing him. That is, not until 1937, when a chance meeting with Carl Haun resulted in Pearson finally beginning his dream idea to mass produce archery equipment.
It was that chance meeting with a retired Oklahoma oilman in 1938 that soon made Ben Pearson’s dream to mass-produce archery equipment a reality. Pearson had always been a fan of Henry Ford and had envisioned assembly line manufacturing as the key to making affordable reliable equipment. He knew how to do it, and he knew he could invent the machines he needed; the problem was he didn’t have the capital for his dream venture until Carl Haun came to visit his backyard shop in Pine Bluff one day.
The Oklahoman had heard about Pearson and traveled to Arkansas in search of some top-of-the-line arrows for his grandson who had lost or broken all of his. Haun was extremely impressed with the quality of Pearson’s work but manufacturing bows and arrows in the small shop was slow and extremely laborious. Pearson took the opportunity to explain his vision of mass-producing archery equipment to the former oilman and Haun was hooked.
Soon they went searching for the appropriate building where they could begin their enterprising partnership and settled on an old sorghum mill that was for sale. According to Pearson, Jr., “At that moment Carl Haun’s financial support and Ben Pearson’s mechanical knowledge were joined, forming the Ben Pearson Company.” Pearson Jr. says, “By the time Carl left Pine Bluff, a building had been acquired and plans formulated. Sometime around march of 1938, Ben Pearson Inc. was created. After two or three investments, Carl and his wife moved to Pine Bluff and the rest is history.” Haun became the company’s president and general manager and remained so until his death in 1963. By April 1939 just a year into the business, the Ben Pearson Co. was considered to be the world leader in volume production of archery equipment. Ben Pearson applied scientific management to the workplace much the same as Ford. He also personally developed much of the machinery necessary to produce a component or required operation during those early years and developed a systematic flow to the production process.
Some of his earliest product inventions include the first “mass produced broadhead” a skeleton ferule broadhead” (punch pressed steel broadhead); various fishing and arrow points or pyles; a hollow wood tournament arrow (1938/39); in the 40s, he received a patent for a three piece take down; and various archery equipment machine inventions, such as the cresting machine, handle trim lathe, bow tillering machine, automatic arrow point machine, automatic bow sanding machine, and target machine (to make straw targets). Aside from the archery industry, Ben Jr. says his dad played a key role in the development and manufacturing of some of the first mass produced mechanical cotton pickers beginning in 1949. “Therefore we are manufacturing the world’s oldest weapon and the world’s latest development in farm machinery,” Pearson told a reporter at the time.
By 1952, Ben Pearson Co. was producing 50 percent of all the archery equipment sold in the U.S. The company’s sprawling complex had expanded to twelve buildings covering 139,000 square feet, and all of it due to Ben Pearson’s mechanization genius. In fact, Pearson was awarded several patents for his inventions, including take-down bows, arrowhead construction and target making machines. The company began marketing with catalogs and in the 1940 edition Ben Pearson Sr. wrote, “For the first time in the history of American archery, the manufacturing of precision bows and arrows has been placed on large scale production. We are able to maintain the highest standards in precision, because our large scale operations enable us to use craftsmen with highly-trained specialized ability. Thus, with the best in stock and the best in craftsmen coupled with our rigid precision supervision, we produce superior archery products which have no peer in America or the world.”
Part of that precision process was the wood from which the bows and arrows were made. Nearly all of the arrows were manufactured from Port Oxford Cedar, which was grown in only two places in the world in commercial quantities – a small county in Oregon and a singular island in Japan. The company’s most popularly-priced bow was made of Lemonwood, which was grown in Cuba but had no connection to the lemon tree. As time went by Pearson developed other brands, or a “series line of names,” like the Sovereign Series for his higher-end bows, Apex (which were nearly identical to regular BP models), and Locksley for the European market. Among the most famous of all was the Palomino made from laminated wood and fiberglass. The bow was so popular with elite archers the factory ran six weeks behind on orders. The acclaim and awards won by archers using the Palomino bow are too numerous to mention but include many national, international, and world championships in the late 50s to early 60s. In 1961 the Sovereign line of archery equipment came out. This was the "elite" line of bows sold by Ben Pearson. By 1963 the total average daily output of Ben Pearson was 3,000 bows and 3,000 to 4,000 doz. arrows.
SALE OF THE BUSINESS
In early 1967, four years before his death, Ben Pearson, whose health was failing, sold his interest in the company to the Leisure Group, a manufacturing conglomerate with corporate offices in Los Angeles. However, Ben Pearson Jr. says the production plant remained in Pine Bluff until the mid-90s. When asked what it means to represent the name of the “Father of Modern Archery,” Selman said, “Ben Pearson worked diligently in perfecting equipment that was both affordable and precise. We are constantly looking at innovations to already existing bows like the Advantage III. We are currently building the Ben Pearson name back to a recognized force for both competition and bow hunting through excellent equipment, pro and field staff, and social media.” In 1967 The Leisure Group acquired Ben Pearson Inc. The Sovereign line was dropped. Several models were continued under the Pearson name. The company headquarters moved to Los Angeles, California. 1972 The Brunswick Corporation bought Ben Pearson from the Leisure Group. The headquarters moved to Tulsa Oklahoma. In 1978 Ben Pearson was bought by an old partner of Ben Pearson and moved back to Pine Bluff, Ark. In 1983 Pearson brought back four bows: the cougar Bronco Ben, all American, and the Mercury Hunter. The Ben Pearson bow model that lasted the longest was the Cougar. It began in 1958 and lasted until 1977. The first Cougar was right and left handed. Over the years it was made in lengths from 64 inches to 58 inches. The company has been revived under the name Ben Pearson Outdoors. Its initial national sales director Ben Selman says the company, purchased in 2009, is family-owned and currently employs 26 people in a 5,300-square foot facility. He says its intention is to “continue archery excellence forged by the legend of Ben Pearson.”
Logos. Ben Pearson Inc. has always had a logo on its bows, arrow boxes and printed material. The logo changed some times every year or two. The same logo was never used very long. It is the easiest way to date printed material or arrow boxes. The logos have small differences to complete changes. Sometimes only the font changed. Sometimes the broadhead changed. Phases were added and taken away.
While Ben Pearson was an avid archer and loved the sport, he was a businessman with a genius for manufacturing. He also made sewing machine parts, boats, boat trailers, corn cribs, cotton pickers and automobile pipe fittings. At the 50th anniversary party for Ben Pearson Archery, Governor Bill Clinton was presented with the six millionth manufactured bow and the 200 millionth manufactured arrow. Governor Clinton said the only thing he ever won was an archery contest in grade school with a Ben Pearson bow and arrows. By the time of the 50th anniversary Ben Pearson Inc. had 350 workers and a payroll of $100 million.
It is thought that Ben Pearson Archery was the largest manufacturer of archery equipment between 1939 and 1967- which (at periods) during that time frame employed around 800 employees. Ben Pearson was among the first inductees of the Archery Hall Of Fame in 1972 (he passed away in 1971), also he is in several other halls- National Bowhunters Hall of Fame - The National Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame- Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame - Arkansas Outdoor Sportsman Hall Of Fame - Arkansas Bowhunters Hall of Fame- also received the Compton Medal of Honor in 1967 from the National Field Archery Association. He passed away in 1971.
In 1980 for the 50th anniversary of the Ben Pearson Co., then-Governor Bill Clinton was presented with the company’s six millionth bow and 200 millionth arrow manufactured. At that time, the company employed more than 350 workers and had a payroll in the tens of millions of dollars. It’s hard to describe the legend of Ben Pearson in one story. He was an inventor, a machinist, an electrician and woodworker, an engineer, an industrialist, a world-class archer and a visionary.
According to Ben Jr. “There are few people who have devoted their soul to archery as my father Ben Pearson did. Ben would have been happy to have received an award or not to have, and would have perhaps simply stated that there are few men who have had the opportunity of working at something they enjoy, as he did.”
Key milestones in Ben Pearson’s Career included, but are not limited to:
Ben Pearson also produced the Apex Line. Many of the Apex bows were nearly identical to regular Pearsons. We're still looking for more history of the Apex line. Most experts think it was a line made for Finny Sports or some other company wanting their own brand to sell. A few folks have said Apex was a brand to sell Pearson "Seconds" (factory rejects), but there is no evidence of that, and I have owned several Apex bows that were flawless. Pearson sold their own "seconds" as Pearson bows, and stamped a large "S" in the bottom of the riser. They were often discounted 30-50% depending on the flaw(s). Here is the Apex/Pearson line comparison to the best of our knowledge.:
The Locksley line was an Early to mid 1960's entry-mid level line of bows sold by the Ben Pearson Company, particularly in Europe. It was not a means to market Pearson "Seconds". Most Locksley branded bows were from the same designs as regular Pearsons, with a few exceptions. For example, the Locksley Lion was like a supercharged Pearson Cougar - same general design but with a larger riser and tip overlays. Other known models include the:
The Ben Pearson Special and KM Special
was a Ben Pearson Hunter model that was made for K-Mart and called the KM Special. They were not quite as high a quality as the regular Hunter model, but a serviceable bow that was not quite true centershot.
Ben Pearson Logo History
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Ben Pearson Sovereign Line History
In 1961 Pearson came out with the Golden and Silver Sovereign line. The Golden series was the top line. The Silver Sovereign series bows were made from 1961-1964; and the Golden Sovereign from 1961-1971. Models included, in various years:
The early Golden and Silver models had one fatal flaw. Pearson used Urac 185 back then which is a poor substitute for lamination glue. It broke down relatively fast when exposed to extreme heat and or cold, and was unstable. As a result, bows would delaminate. After this was corrected Pearson expanded the "Sovereign" line. These additions were high end and high quality, such as the Conqueror hunting bow. The Sovereign line was discontinued in 1971. In 1967 the Sovereign line included the (from most to least expensive): Lord Mercury, Lady Mercury, Lord Sovereign, Lady Sovereign, Mercury Hunter, Prince, Knight, Falcon, Mace, Scot, Baron, and Duke.