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J. W. Fecker Optics

Born in 1891, J.W. Fecker grew up in Cleveland and earned a degree in physics from Cleveland’s Case School in Applied Science in 1912. Astronomy and optical engineering were accorded special attention at this school, because its founder ( together with his friends Warner and Swasey) happened to be a serious amateur astronomer. Not surprising that the direction of J.W. Fecker’s career went in that direction.


Early catalogs refer to to his “15 years of experience “,before launching his own company, in manufacturing a long line of fire control instruments for the U.S. Army and Navy-experience which does indeed suggest other Ord. Dept. commissions awarded to W&S. ( builder of the Army’s prismatic sight for the Model 1903 Springfield.

However telescopic sight expert C.S.Lewis reported that Fecker’s last employment immediately prior to founding his Cleveland business in 1922 had been with optics giant Baush & Lomb.

“Fecker’s earliest advertisement in Arms and The Man, predecessor of American Rifleman, appearing in the August 1, 1922 issue, did not make clear , what he was prepared to offer. It suggested he was willing to build telescopic sights equipped with lenses of his own manufacture to the customer’s specification. A few issues later, readers of his small ad were presented with the briefest of descriptions of a new scope. A 3/4 inch clear aperture objective lens, 18 1/2 inches in length, 6 and 10 power. Ads after this one noted that fittings would be supplied to allow use of his new scope in all current mounts. A V pronged clamp ring for use with the V-notched Stevens or Winchester front mounts, or a “pope-style” rib for Pope and certain Stevens mounts.”

There early ads got no special attention to the new optic’s most unique feature. A sliding erector lens for distant focusing as opposed to the adjustable objective lens already familiar to optics made by Malcolm, Stevens, Winchester, and later Lyman. Fecker’s unconventional focusing adjustment because it is so much easier to manipulate from a shooting position, is usually found to be very handy to users without arms that would make them the star of a freak show. Fecker’s catalogs asserted that his method insured “increased stability of the optical system ” a claim others like John Unertl would dispute.

Fecker’s focusing/parallax adjustment differed from competitors in that it was not calibrated in yards, but by simple numerals. Each Fecker scope was individually focused at the factory for several different ranges, and the resulting numerical settings recorded with the serial number on the instruction sheet which came with each scope.

“If Fecker’s earliest ads left a good deal to the imagination the same cannot be said for the brilliant series of optics dissertations contributed by Fecker to Arms, and later Rifleman, beginning with the issue of May 1922. Curiously , “A Precise Method of Focusing Telescopic Sights,” his first article, makes no mention at all of the unique “Fecker system” of adjustment, which by then, just three months before his first ad appeared must already have been on the drawing board if not in production. Of course given delays in publishing, the article may have been submitted many months before Fecker drew up his final design.

The shooting world’s “official” recognition of the new Fecker scope came in the March 15th, 1923 issue of American rifleman. This review was extremely positive in its evaluation. E.C. Crossman, a giant and well respected gunwriter in his day for those who do not know, said “Without question the finest target telescope and mounts in existence is the Fecker 1 1/8 instrument”. This endorsement appeared in Crossman’s Small Bore Rifle Shooting published in 1927. Whelen said of the Fecker ” This is the most perfect target telescope I have ever seen”. C.S. Landis, in .22 Caliber Rifle Shooting 1932 said,” This is the finest rifle telescope made in this country, or anywhere.” The new scope was an immediate hit with anyone who could afford one.

AS mentioned above, Fecker scopes made before 1924 had to be mounted with rings made by other makers. Something John Unertl had to cope with when after working with Fecker he set up his own shop years later. By 1925 Fecker been offering a set of mounts that met his requirements for quality. They were superior to everything else on the market to deserve the claim of being “a class of their own”. Even with that there was room to improve and he did with his “Precision mount”, which he began to supply shortly after. The inventor was actually Donald A Baker. His design included the straight edge interposed between the tube and the adjustment screw , a friction click device into each thimble, and a mechanism for more accurately and securely clamping the mount to the base.These innovations eventually became the industry standard.

The pivotal event in Fecker’s life occurred in 1926. He aquired the historic John A Brashear Optics Co. of Pittsburgh. This turning point was announced with apparent pride in a special notice or the June ,American Rifleman. Founded in 1881 the Brashear works was world famous for the manufacture of astronomical telescopes, although it supplied commercial optical goods to other instrument makers, notably Warner & Swazey.

“Although few shooters would have been in position to appreciate the significance of this event, optics experts and industry insiders like Crossman, Landis and Whelen, should have recognized that rather more than a mere change of factory location had taken place.” Oddly enough no one wrote about it or seemed to have taken note. From this new location Fecker went on to make some of the most respected optics for astronomy in the world. “Fecker’s name commanded the highest international respect” but we won’t dip into that here.

Back in the shooting world, more powerful Fecker scopes were being designed for competitive shooters, and for people demanding more for the newly developed hobby of long range varmint hunting. Fecker had entered the market just a year before the official NRA sanctioning of Small Bore competition. Then in 1931 commerical production of rifles and ammo for the .22 Hornet kicked off major popular interest in high velocity varmint rounds and varmint shooting. For these shooting requirements high end optics were needed and until 1934 Fecker was the only optics maker who could satisfy the demand.

Fecker was finally challenged in 1934 by the new Lyman 1-1/8 objective lens targetsop, in 8 and 10x. This soon to be famous model was an impressive advance over the now antique instruments Lyman had acqured from Stevens and Winchester. It was hobbled by inferior mounts to the ones Fecker made, and no optically equal to the Fecker 1-1/2 inch, 16 power model of 1932. Additionally, John Unertl, hired by Fecker in 1928 after immigrating from Germany, left the company to start his own family run business in Pittsburgh. An even that seemed less worrisome to Fecker than Lyman, but time proved otherwise.

“Unertl’s departure was onlypart ofthe brain drain to be afflicting Fecker about this time. Possible more galling to Fecker was the “treason” of his chief optician Hageman, and his very able son Wray, both lured away by Lyman to design and improved internally adjustable hunting scope. Which resulted in the Lyman “Alaskan”. The hemorrhage of talent occurred at a time when many scientific commissions seemed to be coming Fecker’s way, such as a 61″ telescope for Harvard, and a planetarium for the American Museum Of Natural History.”

As time went on Fecker became less and less involved in competition shooting and the world f rifle optics, Rarely showing up at Camp Perry for the National Matches. An even John Unertl always attended and mingled with shooters. His attention was more on the large optics of astronomy , while Unertl and Lyman continued to make developments and take much more of the market share. Unertl optics becoming recognized as the leader of precision rifle optics in the shooting world.

Fecker was running full page ads in every issue of American Rifleman through July, 1956. After that, they abruptly stopped. A change in ownership had taken place. American optical was the new owner and the management of the “Fecker Division” had no interest in advising former scope customers of the transition. The new owner clearly had no interest in scopes or shooting. It’s attention was on the advanced optical and electronic systems Fecker engineers were then developing for Cold War use as aircraft and missile tracking. The reason for buying out the company in the first place.

“Gil Parsons of Parson Optical Co. who was then working as an A.O. optician about two years after this takeover in 1958 remembers the last pathetic act in the Fecker rifle scope saga: boxes of miscellaneous scope and mount parts were delivered to his plant, and all present invited to take their pick-which he, at least proceeded to do with gusto. Thus ended the Fecker target-scope story-not with a bang but a whimper. “

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