Guns (gunsmiths): The art of firearm-making plays an important role in the history of technology and crafts in Austria. This art had its heyday in the Renaissance and Baroque period. Firearms from these periods are valuable collectors´ items, especially those made by master craftsmen from Vienna, Salzburg, Ferlach, and rural villages in Tyrol, Lower Austria and Upper Austria. The barrels of these firearms very often had a deep blue surface finish and were inlaid with gold ornaments. Locks were cut and engraved with ornaments and miniature figures. Stocks were elegantly designed, carved, inlaid and decorated with ornamental fittings of brass and heavy silver.
The Zelner (Zellner) dynasty (1595-1829), originally from Zell am Moos in the province of Salzburg, became famous for their highly skilled work and beautifully decorated firearms. In 1692 Kaspar Zelner went to work in Vienna, where, together with Markus Zelner, he produced some of the most important pieces of that time. In the 17th century the Klett family started to design guns. Together with Johann Krach, they created innovative gunpowder weapons and repeating rifles and forerunners of firearms of modern semi -automatic magazine guns were developed.
The town of Ferlach, Carinthia, is well known for its gun making. As early as 1558, hunting rifles and shotguns were being manufactured in Ferlach. Nowadays this production site is still famous for the manufacturing of hunting rifles. Each piece is skilfully decorated and engraved by craftsmen, and the products are sold through a co-operative. In 1879 a technical school for gunsmiths and engravers was founded (Fachschule fuer Gewehrindustrie). A Hoehere technische Lehranstalt fuer Waffentechnik (upper-level school of weapons technology) was also established in Ferlach.
Another town where gun-making started very early was Steyr. It became especially famous due to the work of J. Werndl. Muzzle-loaders (Lorenz System) were produced in Austria from 1854 onwards. This system was further developed in 1866 (breech-loaders; Waenzl System). In 1865 Werndl and his foreman K. Holub designed the "Werndl Rifle", with a calibre reduced to 11mm. It was introduced on the Austrian market in 1876. Werndl also introduced the machine production of guns (1855), and the production site in Steyr thus also became competitive in the world market ( especially against the big British, Belgium and French companies).
In the early 1880s, Austria also started replacing, on a trial basis, conventional single-loading rifles with repeating rifles (Fruwirth 11mm and Kropatschek Portuguese 8mm). In 1885, the "Mannlicher" repeating rifle designed by F. Mannlicher and Schoenauer was selected as the most promising design, and gained world-renown. It was improved in terms of mechanics as well as ballistics (reduced barrel calibre, and bullet weight, lowering the overall weight of the gun from 4.45kg to 3.65kg). Steyr soon extended production to hunting rifles, and from 1895 onwards to pistols and machine guns. From 1867 until 1922 the Steyr production site (Oesterreichische Waffenfabriks-AG) produced 9, 633, 774 guns. During World War II the Steyr factory Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG produced 11% of all German guns (calibre 98). Since 1955 it has also produced all guns for the Austrian army (automatic rifle 58, automatic rifle 77, marksman´s rifle 69, machine gun 74) together with Mannlicher AG & Co KG. Steyr-Mannlicher AG & Co KG also produces pistols and weapons for hunting and sports shooting. Hunting rifles are still produced in Ferlach, also for export.
Literature#E. Baumgartner, Die Geschichte der Waffenerzeugung in Ferlach, doctoral thesis, Innsbruck 1953; M. Pfaffenwimmer, Die wirtschaftliche und soziale Entwicklung der "Oe. Waffenfabriksgesellschaft" unter der Leitung des Gen.-Dir. Josef Werndl 1869-89, doctoral thesis, Vienna 1985.