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The Uberti Story

The Uberti Story
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The Uberti Story

by Tom Leoni on March 28th, 2017

Who was Aldo Uberti, and how did he end up manufacturing replica old-West guns? Let the posse take you through a quick trip into the past and introduce you to a man, a life and a passion.

Aldo Uberti—called “Renato” by friends and family—was fifth of six siblings, born in Inzino, a small northern Italian village not far from the famous gunmaking town of Gardone Val Trompia. Like with many in his family and neighborhood, his destiny was to enter the firearms industry, the area’s main source of employment. By age 9, young Aldo was a firearm-stock polisher and by 14 he was enrolled in the then-renown Zanardelli gunmaking school and would soon after become an apprentice at Beretta. He kept his nose to the grindstone for 12 hours a day 6 days a week, and another 6 hours on Sunday, eagerly soaking up the tricks of the trade from his experienced coworkers.

During World War II, Aldo joined the Italian resistance guerrilla, the partigiani, who fought alongside the allies against German occupation. On September 8, 1943, Italy in fact signed a secret pact with the allies stipulating that it would cease hostilities against them—an act that served as a catalyst for all local resistance groups that redoubled their efforts to rid the country of the hated Nazi forces. Resistance did, however, come with substantial risks and Aldo Uberti was among those arrested and captured by the Nazis; fortunately for him (and for gunmaking history), his life was spared although he ended up serving time in a German concentration camp.

After the war, Aldo continued plying his gunmaking trade and by 1959 he was ready to set up his own company: Aldo Uberti, Srl., was formed in that year as a shop that manufactured high-quality firearm components for several brands. But this activity as a mere parts manufacturer would remain short-lived.

On the eve of the American Civil War centennial, Aldo Uberti was approached by two US-based businessmen who had predicted that reenacting would soon become a big thing. They were therefore searching for a company that would be willing to faithfully replicate Civil-War-era guns and make them affordable to a wide public—since originals had by then become rare, fragile and expensive. The concept of replica firearms was unknown back then, and this opportunity immediately appealed to Aldo, who had a lifelong passion for the American West and its aura of honesty, hard-work, self-reliance and oneness with nature (Aldo was also a passionate botanist who would bring home, plant and grow rare trees and flowers from his travels abroad).   

Since his previous training was to “replicate” all sorts of firearm components for different firms and different types of guns, this new activity was a shoo-in for Aldo Uberti. His first replica was the 1851 Colt Navy, quickly followed by the 1858 Remington New Army and several other iconic Civil-War-era revolvers. The 1860 Henry rifle also followed, as well as (eventually) the Winchester rifle and the Colt Single Action Army. This specialty niche turned out to be a successful business model, with a market much wider than that of collectors and reenactors. But something would soon happen that would make it palatable to an even wider audience.

In 1964, famed movie director Sergio Leone approached Aldo Uberti asking him to provide the guns for his classic Spaghetti-Western trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Suddenly, Uberti guns appeared on screens all over the world and demand for them increased many times over. With this boom in demand also came the philosophy of continuous improvement in quality control, as Uberti firearms were no longer used merely by reenactors, but also (and especially) by shooters who demanded accuracy, reliability and durability.

Since then, Uberti guns have appeared in countless Western classics—from John Wayne’s True Grit to Kurt Russel’s Tombstone and practically every Western movie in between or since. With the popularity of the genre, the concept of replica Western guns had established itself as a major sector of the firearms market; Aldo Uberti had therefore pioneered not only a concept, but a whole new and successful industry. It was during this time of explosive growth that his guns gained the reputation of being “equal of better than the originals.” As a salt-of-the-earth type, Aldo viewed it as a matter of personal integrity to be truthful to the originals, down to the smallest, most internal and seemingly least important details.

On the first day of Spring 1988, Aldo quietly passed away during his afternoon nap, after pruning his beloved orchard in Tuscany. But far from dying with him, the firm that he had founded and grown like his treasured plants would instead receive a further injection of life: in 1989, Uberti was purchased by the Beretta family, which proceeded to equip it with modern CNC machines as well as capital to expand and grow.

Today, Uberti is run by Mr. Giacomo “The Wizard” Merlino, who for years had worked alongside Aldo Uberti and shared his passion for Western guns and his obsession for quality and accuracy. Mr. Merlino has been able to successfully solve some nearly-impossible production puzzles that enable Uberti to manufacture accurate replicas while keeping the price affordable. As counterintuitive as it may sound, these guns’ design was optimized for a different industrial era (that is, in the era of large, dedicated machines) and “translating” this efficiency to today’s CNC machines is in many cases a substantial challenge. Solving this kind of problem requires patience, creativity and (especially) experience, which The Wizard and his team of gunmakers of several generations surely don’t lack.

In the USA, Uberti is part of the Benelli USA group with sales, marketing, warehousing and customer service operating out of Maryland. In Italy, Uberti is in strict symbiosis with its parent company, Beretta, that performs several crucial tasks such as hardening and nickeling as well as offering a vision of growth and innovation.

If Aldo is looking down on what he has created, he certainly sees the millions of passionate collectors, shooters, reenactors and history buffs enjoying product that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford (or even merely shoot). The posse thanks you for being part of this success story and wishes you many years of happy shooting.

Tom Leoni
Tom was born in Switzerland and grew up in Northern Italy. His passion for collecting and shooting historical firearms began in the 1990’s, when he moved to the United States. By 2000, he was competing in high-power rifle matches, hunting big game in two continents and working as a product manager in the firearms industry. He currently works for Benelli USA as the Uberti USA product manager and is part of the Swiss Rifles of Washington DC shooting team. Tom’s other interests are classical and folk music, historical Western martial arts (published author) and historical reenactment.
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