Henry: From Butt Plate To Muzzle
Anthony took me on a tour of the plant, which covers about one
full block. "Manufacturing space in Brooklyn is very expensive,
and we have to maximize every inch," he explained as we walked
toward the barrel stock. "We could operate at about one-quarter
of the cost in New Jersey, but this is my neighborhood and I wanted
to use local people to build a quality product."
As I traveled from department to department, I saw numerous industrial
lathes and machines. "Some of our larger machineswere used
to build rifles in WW II, yet they are still dependable today," Imperato
said. A ratio of one machinist to one machine assures that each
barrel and part receives personal supervision through this critical
At other times, workers use computer-driven measurement and production
equipment. "We start with extruded steel from Pittsburgh that's
cut to length and goes into our CMC (Computerized Machine Center),
which runs 24 hours per day, seven days a week."
The rif les are built in stages, and I didn't see any robots checking
bolts, working levers, peening pins, or numerous other assembly
operations. The production process includes many subactivities
that occur simultaneously, and then are assembled at a finishing
point. Bolts, barrels and other parts are polished and buffed for
functional and aesthetic purposes. After the barrels are completed,
they go to the bluing vats for the ultimate finish. No chemical
peels needed on this skin.
"Would you like to see a rifle test-fired?" asked Imperato. "Absolutely," was
my instinctive response, and then I wondered — where in the
heck can you shoot a rifle in Brooklyn, New York???
"Our Big Boy production is in here," said Imperato.
My host quickly asked that I get to see a rifle test-fired for
the first time. A worker pulled a .44 Magnum from a rack of finished
rifles and led me to a small room, where I donned safety glasses
and ear protection. "We have to proof-test the rifle first," he
explained of an event I've always wanted to witness.
Every rifle sold in the USA and most foreign countries is "prooftested" to
ensure that it will not explode upon ignition. The Big Boy was
placed in a holding rig and then a heavy metal shield was lowered
over the rifle. The operator pulled the trigger with a wire device
and I heard the muffled discharge.
Next, the rifle was fired a half-dozen more times to guarantee
that the loading and firing operation worked flawlessly. Smaller
caliber rifles are fired as many as 50 times.
The Big Picture
"We plan to offer the Big Boy in other calibers, but don't
have a firm timeline yet," Imperato stated, asking that I
not be specific about the introduction. "A new rifle is like
having a baby," he joked. "It takes nine months to develop
and everything goes smoothly, yet right at delivery time, the 'birth'
never goes as planned. Some glitch always makes life really interesting."
Henry also prides itself in exceptional customer service. "A
consumer won't get a recorded voice message unless they call after
we close," said Imperato. "My father and I answer many
consumer phone calls, and I handle all consumer e-mails. Folks
are going to get good old-fashioned customer service."
On the way back to Imperato's office, I met Marian who, with two
assistants, prepares breakfast for all 90 employees each day. "We
are 'foodies,' and we are Italian, so in New York we talk a lot
about food," said Imperato. "My grandfather began a tradition
that endures. We make breakfast six days a week. Sometimes she
bakes hot cakes, scrambles eggs or serves juice and fruit. In the
summer an ice cream truck may pull up and serve 90 ice cream treats
to pass around." As I walked around the plant, it was easy
to detect a sense of family among the employees — certainly
in keeping with the local atmosphere and the cultural heritage
of the Imperato family.
President Lincoln received an engraved Henry rifle, which is currently
in the Smithsonian Institution, and Henry rifles are often used
as promotions and as an expression of achievement. "We have
a number of events each year we call Guns for Good Causes, like
this past Saturday when we donated two engraved rifles [for charity
fundraisers]. Also, we welcome photos of our rifles in the hands
of sports stars and celebrities. That shot of me with Stone Cold
Steve Austin is a favorite. He has every model of our rifles, and
is a big fan."
My day at the plant was informative, and reinforced the many positive
things I had heard about Henry firearms, yet a proud New Yorker
would not let me leave without the entire Brooklyn experience. "You
have to see the Brooklyn Bridge and eat a Coney Island hotdog," insisted
Imperato. Within the hour, we did both. Brooklyn, New York, may
be an unlikely location for a manufacturer of vintage rifles, yet
the force underlying the production is as solid as the rock base
of Manhattan. Henry is a family business in a proud neighborhood,
building a historic, all-American product by hand...the old-fashioned
Barrels and other parts are drilled and finished
to exacting tolerances using the latest computer technology,
as well as lathes and boring machines that have proven themselves
over the decades.
A family business, Anthony (behind) has continued the interprise,
following in the footsteps of his father, Louis.