NRA: Early Foundation And Development 1871-1907

posted on May 14, 2020

What started as a tiny organization representing mainly the state of New York had, by the early 1900s, evolved into a truly national Association. NRA's program during its youthful years centered mainly on improving marksmanship among the military. Rifle tournaments at ranges in Creedmoor, Sea Girt and Camp Perry captured the country's spirit of nationalism and resulted in key improvements in rifles and target scoring. NRA also set standards for military rifle training and even inspired the federal government to form its own segment within the War Department to focus on promoting rifle practice among soldiers as well as civilians.

Below is a timeline focusing on events during the early development of the NRA from 1871 to 1907.


The National Rifle Association is formed by a group of New York National Guardsmen who are concerned about marksmanship training and national defense. Lt. Col. William Church and Capt. George Wingate wrote extensively about the need for better rifle marksmanship to support national defense.


NRA's Creedmoor Range
After considerable clearing, development and construction, the Creedmoor range was opened on April 25, 1873 and the first Annual Matches were held at the new range.

NRA acquires Creed's Farm on Long Island, which became the organization's first shooting range. Deeded to the National Rifle Association for $26,250, the farm was renamed Creedmoor. Less than a year later hosted its inaugural match on June 21, 1873.


1874 International Match at Creedmoor
U.S. shooters at the Great 1874 International Match with Creedmoor rifles.

NRA sponsors an American rifle team in the country's first-ever international match. The match, fired at Creedmoor, pitted veteran Irish shooters against a relatively inexperienced American team firing American-made rifles. The Irish used muzzleloading target rifles, thought to be far more accurate than any breechloader, while the Americans used Remington and Sharps breechloaders especially made for the event. Competitive shooting becomes an immensely popular spectator sport as English-speaking people around the world followed the match.


Palma Trophy
The Palma Trophy is the oldest international trophy contested by the U.S.

The Palma Trophy is introduced in NRA's Centennial Match as a symbol of excellent marksmanship. The trophy stood seven-and-a-half feet tall with the form of a Roman triumphal standard. However, instead of the Roman SPQR, the trophy bore the word Palma (Latin: victory, honor, glory) and the words “In the name of The United States of America to the Riflemen of the World.”


Believing there will be no more wars in his lifetime, the Governor of New York, Alonzo Cornell slashes state funding in the National Guard, at the same time cutting deeply into NRA's shooting program.

Governor Cornell said to NRA President George Wingate, "There will be no war in my time or in the time of my children. The only need for a National Guard is to show itself in parades and ceremonies. I see no reason for them to learn how to shoot if their only function will be to march a little through the streets. Rifle practice for these men is a waste of money, and I shall not countenance in my presence anything as foolish as a discussion of the rifle shooting at Creedmoor."


Sea Girt artillery
Spectators observe artillery practice on the beach at Sea Girt in this photo from around 1900.

Lacking support from New York, NRA transfers its Annual Matches to Sea Girt in New Jersey. The shooting range at Sea Girt was maintained by the New Jersey State Rifle Association, which had been founded in March 1878 by a group of Creedmoor-trained marksmen from the New Jersey National Guard. Sea Girt was readily accessible by rail from Trenton and the northern cities, and was less than 60 miles from New York City.


National Board For The Promotion Of Rifle Practice
NRA received a welcome boost when, in 1902, Congressman Frank Mondell of Wyoming sponsored a bill that would create a "National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice" in the War Department. The bill became law in February 1903 and authorized the establishment of not only the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, but also the National Matches and other related appropriations.

The War Department creates a National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice to promote military and civilian marksmanship. The NBPRP's objectives are a major boon to NRA's program.

Additionally in 1903, in what would become a long-term agenda for NRA, the organization began to work with America's youth.


Camp Perry water tower
One of the many historic landmarks at Camp Perry is the water tower.

NRA and the NBPRP begin holding their Annual Matches at Camp Perry in Ohio, a location that would endure well into the next century.

See more: 10 Interesting Facts About The History Of The Shooting Sports


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