By David Link
When any serious hunter or shooter thinks American sport optics, the name Leupold is almost always in the conversation. Like the major firearms manufacturers that changed their industry forever in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Leupold name has become synonymous with high quality optics in the past 100+ years. The story of Leupold is truly an American one, built on family heritage and hard word. Let’s examine what makes Leupold the standard of excellence in sport optics.
Leupold Volpel & Co
The story of Leupold optics begins with two brother in laws. Fred Leupold and Adam Volpel had already been family members by marriage for eight years when they decided to become business partners. Their company, Leupold & Volpel, primarily repaired survey tools and related equipment in the growing Pacific Northwest. In 1907 they opened up shop in Portland, OR at 5th and Oak Street to further their trade. In those years they operated a humble shop mostly staffed by Fred Leupold. Then a few years later in 1911 John Cyprian (JC) Stevens finished and patented his design for the first water level recorder. Similar to many designers of the age, Stevens needed to find a company to manufacture his new patent, and he soon forged a partnership with Leupold and Volpel to build initial water level recorder units. The instrument had become popular by 1914, and Leupold and Volpel brought their new partner JC Stevens into the company. At the same time, Leupold’s son Marcus also joined the company, and it was renamed Leupold Volpel & Co.
The company continues to thrive with it survey equipment and especially the water level recorder, and in 1937 they build upon the initial concept by releasing the Telemark water recorder. The Telemark was unique because it transmits water levels via telephone signal, and this allows remote water resources to be monitored without needing a surveyor on site. No doubt the Telemark helped the budding America grow as it continued to demand more water for its expanding towns and cities. Two years later it is patented and the company gains further success in the survey tools market. At the same time of the Telemark patent, JC Stevens’ son Robert also joins the company. With this new family addition, the present name of the company takes shape: Leupold & Stevens.
The Missed Buck
As the country faces a great challenge in WWII, Fred Leupold passes away in 1944. By this time the company’s offering is great and includes water level and flow recorders, steam gauging equipment, surveying instruments, compasses, hand levels, and abney levels (a device used to measure degrees of arc and percent grade). After WWII, Norbert Leupold also joins the company after returning from duty as a hydralic engineer in the Army Corps Of Engineers.
It was around this time that arguably the most legendary moment in the company occurred. Marcus Leupold was an avid sportsman, and while out on a hunt, he missed a buck because the scope on his rifle fogged up. It is said that he immediately commented: “Hell, I could build a better scope than this!” Marcus stuck to his word, and in 1947 the company released its first rifle scope: The Plainsman. It was the product of years of research and was built upon the hard learned lessons of WWII combat. The Plainsman was the first fog-proof scope manufactured by an American company, and it utilized a process that other American scope manufacturers weren’t using at the time. The Plainsman was purged of all oxygen and filled with nitrogen in its place. This created a more stable environment that wouldn’t react to temperature changes like oxygen does.
Growth In The Outdoor Market
The Plainsman and the designs that followed proved to be wildly popular among hunters all over America. Weather proof optics weren’t just a luxury, they were becoming a necessity. In the 50s another avid sportsman just like Marcus, Jack Slack, joins the company. A few years later he marries into the family and takes Marcus’ daughter Georgia in marriage. Together, the growing Leupold and Stevens family continues to take new steps into the outdoor market. They roll out the first duplex reticle design in 1962, and it is a design that is still popular today because of its ability to keep the crosshairs visible even when held over cover or used in low light. As their share in the rifle scope market grew over these years, Marcus decides to step down and his brother Norbert becomes head of the company. At the same time the company relocates from Portland to its current home in Beaverton, OR.
New scope designs follow in the 1970s including a line of pistol scopes and lighter, more powerful rifle scopes. By the time the 1980s roll around, the company’s rifle scope offerings are generating twice the revenue as the company’s initial survey tools operation. During this time the company also controls a major share in Nosler bullets for several years. The 80s also see a change in management as a German immigrant Werner Wildauer takes over the reigns of the company. The company also expands into the tactical market and begins providing rifle scopes to the US Military. It is a partnership that continues today. New sports optics like spotting scopes and binoculars are unveiled as the years pass. Many of these designs are also utilized by the US Military. As a new century dawns, Leupold makes its mark in the illuminated reticle market.
As you can see, Leupold has a long, rich history in the optics market. Today their scopes are coveted by shooters and hunters all around the globe, and they become more advanced as each year passes. Leupold also acquired the Redfield brand, another storied American optics company, in 2008. The company still employs a sizable workforce in Beaverton, and they still rely on American labor to build every one of their rifle scopes and other optics.
Their warranty is signified by the Golden Ring on each of their high quality instruments. Way back when the company started, Fred Leupold always believed that the customer deserves a square deal, and the customer still gets one when they choose Leupold & Stevens today. If any Golden Ring product is found to have defects in materials or workmanship, they will repair or replace it for free. Remarkably they will do this even if you aren’t the original owner of the product. Their Golden Ring electronic devices are also protected with a two year limited warranty.
Needless to say an investment in a Leupold & Stevens product is one you won’t regret. What are you waiting for? Don’t miss that buck and curse your instrument, trust in Leupold.