Last week we looked at the early years of the Leupold Company, when it had nothing to do with spotting scopes, binoculars, and riflescopes. This week’s column concludes the story of how Leupold became a hunting optics company.
After Fred Leupold passed away, sons Norbert, Marcus as well as J.C. Stevens’ son, Robert, took over and began managing the enterprise. Broadening their focus, the company began making peloruses, (navigational devices), and sextants needed in World War II, selling them to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Merchant Marine. They also found business repairing and refurbishing telescopic gun sights for the armed forces.
This last project is where they discovered a key to a better firearm scope, a discovery that would soon change big game hunting optics forever. They found that evacuating the scope and introducing dry, pure nitrogen inside kept the optics from fogging in wet or humid weather.
That insight, coupled with the company’s experience in repairing gun scopes during the war and designing and marketing surveying equipment, formed a base of knowledge they would soon use to create a groundbreaking riflescope for hunters. And the event that allowed them to turn their business in that direction was a single missed deer on a hunt.
All three of the young managers of the company were avid outdoorsmen. One day Marcus and some friends were hunting blacktail deer in rainy conditions in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Marcus jumped a nice buck, but missed it because his scope fogged up.
“Hell, I can build a better scope than that!” he exclaimed in disgust, watching the deer bound away unscathed.
With that gauntlet thrown down, the young entrepreneurs set out on a history-making quest that would change the company forever. Within a year, the Leupold 2.5X Plainsman riflescope was born, in 1947.
The scopes were purged with nitrogen to eliminate fogging and make them completely waterproof. They also incorporated fine crosshair tuning capability for horizontal and vertical adjustments made from real black widow spider web, allowing dead-on accuracy. Not surprisingly, they became an instant hit with hunters and target shooters.
The success of the riflescopes encouraged the three owners to incorporate in 1949, with Marcus Leupold as president. Sadly, Robert Stevens suffered a stroke and dropped out of the business activity in 1953, dying in 1970.
Marcus and Norbert continued to expand the company and broke new ground in sporting optics with continuous technical improvements and an ever-expanding range of products in following years. In 1962 the company introduced the duplex reticle for better aiming in low light or poor visibility. Other optics enhancements continue up until this day with new and improved products released each year, including protective shooting eyewear in 2020. In 1969 Norbert became president of the company.
The water flow measuring business broke off and was sold under the name in Stevens Water Monitoring Systems in 1998. Riflescopes and other optics became the main focus of the Leupold brand.
A notable investment came in 1969 when the company bought Nosler Bullets. But in 1988 they sold that firm to focus on optics. As a new generation of Leupolds has taken over in recent years, the company is still selling to military and law enforcement, but hunters are to this day the core of its business, with spotting scopes, binoculars, rangefinders, and eyewear adding to a broad range of riflescopes to suit any hunting need. Leupold continues to be a giant in the hunting optics field with all employees based at their Oregon factory, where the optics are made.
Who would have thought that one blacktail buck that eluded Marcus Leupold’s bullet would have been the catalyst for a company still alive and growing today, over a century from its birth.