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N. St. Paul, MN 55109
Western Bowhunter Archery History
Zwickey Archery Inc.
This will be the first of many future pages in the Western Bowhunter that will be devoted to Archery and Bowhunting products and the men behind them in getting that product developed over the years to the high standard that they are mow. As you can see from this page, Zwickey Archery Inc. is featured in this first report, and John Zwickey’s reply to my request for the Zwickey history is very informative, and should be of great interest to all Archers.
Here is some background on the history of Zwickey Archery Inc. and Black Diamond broadheads as you requested. I hope it will be of some interest to your readers.
Black Diamond broadheads have been made continuously since 1938, making them the oldest broadhead on the market in terms of uninterrupted production. We have very little written, so I must trust my memory, as I have worked with my dad, Cliff Zwickey, since I was a kid. Cliff passed away on his 75th birthday July 2, 1977. He was fascinated with Archery ever since he was a Boy Scout and was making a few handmade yew and Osage bows in the ‘30s and the Fleetwood Bow Hinge in 1937.
Suddenly, bowhunting became the exciting new game in archery, and he realized there was room for improvement in broadhead technology. Most broadheads had a uniform, single-thickness blade the whole length of the arrowhead. He thought the tip should be reinforced. His first handmade samples in 1937 were made from two identical pieces sandwiched together with a ferrule socket formed down the center and both laminations all the way to the edge. Realizing he didn’t need that double thickness along the whole cutting edge, but only at the tip for strength: he cut away one lamination along the trailing edge, leaving only one thickness there, but multiple laminations at the tip. In other words, put the steel up front where it’s needed, not where it’s not needed. This feature was patentable, and he acquired Patent No. 2373216.
The 5° taper ferrule that became the standard for the industry happened by accident. His only power tool at the time was a drill press (purchased for a hard-to-come-by $94.00 on his $20.00 weekly wage) in which he chucked a 3/8” rod to file down into a taper for forming the ferrule socket. He filed until it looked about right. It just happened to end up at 5° and that was it! Shortly after getting into production on Black Diamond broadheads, we marketed the first 5° taper hole field point and fish points.
Cliff got a friend with a machine shop to stamp out the parts and get them spot welded and heat treated. Many of them came from the heat treating crooked, and you can’t sell crooked broadheads. So, we sat around and straightened them in a vise, by hand, one at a time. Then we hand brushed on a coating of shiny black lacquer and set them on a pegboard of nails to dry. Next, we ground the edges by hand. “Black Diamond” seemed an appropriate name for this sharp, shiny, black object. For shipping, we unrolled a long sheet of brown paper on the floor, got down on our knees and laid the broadheads out row after row and rolled them up. I often wondered what a mess the customer must have had unpacking them, but no one ever commented about it.
We put a little 2” x 4” ad in the American Bowman-Review, ran the ad a couple times, and had to take it out, as got swamped with orders. I recall one Friday in October when we decided to go hunting on the weekend and had to get some arrows ready. Only trouble was, we couldn’t find even a half dozen broadheads around to put on our own arrows. They’d all been shipped out trying to keep our customers happy. But, we scrounged around in the trash barrel and came up with some discarded seconds. I am disgusted that we didn’t keep a quantity of the original barbed Black Diamonds, as they are the head most sought after by collectors. We have only a few left. They were one of the most beautiful broadheads ever made.
Forest Nagler, Chief Engineer at Allis Chalmers in Milwaukee and an influential Bowhunter in those days, asked Cliff to slit the ferrule so he could insert a cross blade. Cliff decided it was more efficient to strike the little bleeder blades out of the ferrule rather then having to slot through the shaft, and Nagler concurred. We termed these four-bladers “Eskimos” as the Eskimos used cross-cutting bone pieces in their spears and arrows. So, the Black Diamond not only introduced the 5° taper ferrule, but also popularized the four-blade concept. This was in 1942.
The construction of Black Diamonds has been essentially the same for more than 70 years now, but with various model changes with different dies over the years. To document them all, you would have to check Floyd Eccleston’s broadhead collection or read the article Lamont Granger of 2610- 14 Ave. NW, Rochester, MN 55901 wrote for the American Broadhead Collector’s Club in 1976 tabulating and dating all the Zwickey broadheads. They’re still considered by many knowledgeable bowhunters to be the best ever made – guaranteed to out-penetrate any other broadhead and built to split through heavy bone without “flinching.”
Cliff quit his job as a tool maker and designer at a sprayer manufacturer here in North St. Paul the day World War II ended in 1945 and went into full-time production of arrowheads. He had no money in those days, so built his own equipment like the grinding machine and heat treating furnace with parts and material from junkyards. For the grinding machine, he needed half a dozen electric motors, but it was virtually impossible to buy them during the war. Through correspondence, Larry Whiffen in Milwaukee heard about the problem and picked up some motors damaged in a fire. Even though the finish was scorched some, they didn’t look too bad: so Cliff used them, and they’re still in use today.
As for heat treating, it was a constant problem, dealing with warped broadheads resulting from the old-fashioned batch method of heating and quenching. I can understand why most other broadhead manufacturers have chosen to avoid doing their own heat treating. But, our design committed us to it and we had to improve the situation or go out of business. Tired of crooked broadheads, a special process for heat treating was devised that gets them absolutely true and with a fine blue temper in the high-carbon steel. With this process under control, we were finally able to manufacture the quality broadhead we were looking for. Every operation on Black Diamonds is done in our own shop.
Eventually, we got enough money together to acquire some machine tools such as a lathe, band saw, shaper, punch press, and surface grinder so we could make our own tools and dies.
I always admired Cliff’s perseverance. I recall one incident back in the early ‘40s when he spent all his spare time for several weeks carving out a new Osage hunting bow, steaming the ends to form recurves and equipping it with a bow hinge. It was a lot of fussy work. Finally, it was ready, and he took it out in the front yard to take a shot into the park directly across the street from us. The first time he pulled the thing back, it busted all to pieces with such a “bang” that I wondered if he got hurt. All he had left in his hand, still intact, was the handle. But, he didn’t say a word; just picked up the pieces, threw them in the trash can and started planning another bow.
He spent his whole life tinkering with new ideas and inventing; but he considered his greatest achievement to be the Zwickey JUDO® Unloseable Miracle Point, and it was by far the most difficult thing to develop. If he ever got an idea for something, he never quit until it was perfected and the JUDO® point was the ultimate test of that determination. I am sure the archery public will recognize it someday as one of the great advancements in archery. After all, what’s the greatest hindrance to having freedom and fun in archery? Arrow loss, of course. Archers were restricted to shooting only at targets on groomed terrain or spend hours searching for lost arrows. Millions of arrows have been lost over the centuries, but JUDO® changed all that.
The JUDO® project started because we never cared to confine our shooting to targets only. We wanted to pretend we were hunting; so we’d go out on a Sunday afternoon to “kill” some stumps, take a few shots and spend the rest of the afternoon searching for lost arrows. Not our idea of fun. We began experimenting with various arrangements of wires protruding from the field point to snag grass and prevent burrowing. The wires usually got twisted up on the first shot. They had to be flexible with spring action to stand up on stumps and gravel. This went on for about ten years of testing many handmade samples, interspersed with “dry” periods where it looked almost hopeless and we would quit for a spell to work on something else. We wasted a lot of time getting sidetracked by pinning our hopes on designs that worked quite well, but not to our complete satisfaction. Then Cliff came up with the interconnected series of spring arms like the present JUDO®. We knew it was perfected when it proved though enough to tear an old, half-rotting stump to shreds; and when one moonlit night, using shiny aluminum shafts with white fletching and cresting, we went roving across a typical Minnesota meadow of thick knee-high grass and didn’t lose an arrow.
Thoroughly impressed by its antics of bounding agility and flip-flop somersaulting as it grabbed onto grass and turf, and the knockout blow it delivered to small game, we decided to name it JUDO®. The SCORPIO™, which slides on the shaft behind a broadhead, is the most recent innovation in Unloseable arrowheads.
This whole business started because we were having so much fun shooting bows and arrows; we got infected with the “witchery of archery.” Cliff never forgot the thrill he got as a Boy Scout the first time he saw an arrow fly. Now, when I reminisce over the past 75 years, I wonder how something that started out being so much fun could turn into so much work. But, then again, how many people are fortunate enough to work the magic of turning their fun into their livelihood.
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