Grayling was the home of Bear Archery Company centered in the heart of Michigan's northwoods game country and became the archery capital of the world.  Erected in 1946, this modern building was designed and equipped expressly for the manufacture of fine archery equipment.  As a result of the mounting demand for Bear equipment, additions were built in 1953, 1955 and 1956, and employment climbed from 100 workers in 1955 to 200 in 1956.  In 1976, the Bear plant produced a record 360,000 bows in one year.  Before Bear Archery moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1978, the workforce was up to 400 people.


The name of Fred Bear became a symbol of the best in sportsmanship and fine archery equipment.  Founder of Bear Archery Company, he established a long and unique record in this field.  Years ago, the late Art Young, often called "the father of modern bowhunting," introduced him to the sport and Bear soon made archery his own life's endeavor as well as his hobby.  From his experience with all types of archery tackle came many of the original ideas, designs and innovations which made Bear equipment known as the finest available.

Research and engineering progress was continuous. Fred Bear was directly active in design, development and manufacturing.

Bear products underwent careful scrutiny, with the aid of testing equipment run by men with years of bowmaking experience.

In the Tool Room, original production methods and equipment were conceived.  Management-production teamwork is evident here.

Where Bear "Glass-power" started . . . from multiple spools of finest Fiberglas strands bonded together by a bear patented process.

Bear bowmaking combined modern technology with hand craftsmanship and finest materials . . .


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Bear "Glass-power" in the making . . . thousands of tough Fiberglas strands were bonded together, running full-length of every bear bow.  Method is protected by U.S. Patents 2,613,660 and 2,665,678.


2

Sawing select hard maple stock for laminates, or layers which became the weight-saving wood cores of all Bear bows.  Here "lightness-in-the-hand" began a feature acclaimed by experts.


3

Precision sanding each piece of bow core stock and Fiberglas to exact size and uniform thickness.  Pieces had to be accurate and parallel to .001-in., insuring uniformly accurate shooting.

 
4

Sub-assembling component parts of a Bear glass powered Bow wood core pieces, Fiberglas face and backing strips, and handle section.  Each piece had to first pass rigid inspection.


5

Adhesive was mechanically applied to laminates, insuring uniformity . . . In this ultra-modern archery plant, there were machines for every special operation many of them Bear-designed and built.


6

One of the Bear-built assembly presses, where glue was cured by electric, high-frequency bonding, assuring long bow life.  Here the various laminates were fused into an integral bow.


7

After high-frequency bonding, the bow "blank" was contour-ground to general shape on this intricate machine another Bear creation.


8

All the way through, human skill and precision machine worked toward perfection.  This high-speed router shaped recurve bow tips.


9

A woman's touch added beauty to Bear Bow tips.  Hand sanding was typical of craftsmanship that gave distinction to Bear products.


10

"Tillering the bow" for perfect draw, a skill centuries-old.  It was done by hand, an exacting operation for expert bowyers.


11

On this new model specially-designed scale most accurate of its kind in the U.S. every Bear Bow was "weighed" for draw weight.


12

For that characteristic Bear custom finish, admired by archers, each bow received several hand-rubbed coats of durable varnish.

Bear matched arrows make any bow better . . .

More important than for any other part of archery equipment, the choice of arrows must be right.  For sharp, consistent shooting, be sure to obtain arrows made exactly to fit you and to fit your bow.

   For maximum performance, the arrow must be correct in every respect.  Its shaft must be perfectly shaped from the finest Port Orford Cedar finished mirror-smooth, or from highest grade aluminum drawn, tempered and polished expressly for this purpose.  True spiral fletching from hard and sharp turkey pointers, plus accurate installation of nocks and points, gives you every possible advantage in improving your marksmanship and attaining those "close groups" time after time.  And for the bowhunter especially, arrow quality may well make the difference between his own success and failure.

Selecting, weighing and classifying arrow shafts with the aid of a shadowgraph scale.

Testing arrows for spine, matching and storing.  Only the finest Port Orford Cedar was used for Bear arrows.

Cresting arrows was an art done to Bear standards.  Decorative, color striping identifies owners' arrows.

Precision fletching pays off in the field.  Feathers were attached spirally so that arrows rotate in flight.

With a glowing wire, feathers were trimmed to final shape.

Bear Leather handcrafted for beauty styled for utility . . .

"Nothing takes the place of leather" especially when its archery leather by Bear.  Along with the best of materials and workmanship, into each item went Bear's priceless practical experience, gained through actual use and in a continued search for a better way to design and make each product.

A section of the well-lighted Leather Department where skilled craftsmen produced fine quivers, gloves, tabs and armguards in a wide variety of styles and finishes.

A section of the Leather Department where skilled craftsmen worked with the highest quality hides.

For the best in leathercraft, Bear genuine leather articles were made only from select top-grain cowhide.  "Bearhyde," a sturdy non-scuffing artificial leather was used for lower-priced items.

Nothing takes the place of fine leather.  Here, finishing touches complete an order of Bear Quivers.

These successful bowhunters are Bear fans.  Each shoots a Bear Bow and carries his arrows in a Bear Quiver.

Source: Bear Archery Catalogs, c. 1954-58. You can see the production of Bear archery products  on the Bear Archery video tapes "Rural Route One, Grayling, Michigan" and "Badlands Bucks/Arrow for a Grizzly/Rural Route #1."

In a 1969 letter from Fred Bear to his employees, he said:

My aim is to make this company the greatest in the business.  My concern is to do everything I can to make sure that there will be jobs for all of us, at the best possible wages, under the best possible working conditions.  I cannot do it alone, but working together - the sky is the limit.

Without this cooperation and without every individual resolving to deliver an inspired and honest day's work, it is not inconceivable that one day this building could sit here abandoned, with broken windows, a disgrace to the community.  It could be a monument to the fact that free people, under a free enterprise system, could not collectively muster the initiative to rise above day-to-day problems and work together for a common cause.

Sincerely,  Fred Bear

Sadly, Fred's prediction came true when the operation had to move to Florida in 1978.

There are few visible signs today that this is the place where the modern sport of bowhunting was developed.  The industrial building by the railroad tracks where Bear Archery was once located was never able to find a permanent tenant though there was once talk of doing something with the property and there are no plaques or signs to mark the location.  Just that friendly, enigmatic face at the side of the road.



Former site of the Bear Archery Factory in Grayling, 2005
Photos courtesy M. V. Rancich

Bear Archery in Gainesville, Florida

Click thumbnails for a larger view.
The turnoff to Fred Bear Drive
The entrance to Bear Archery Bear Archery sign
Fiberglass statue of a Polar bear at entrance Fiberglass statue of a Kodiak bear at the entrance Fiberglass statue of a Kodiak bear at the entrance
Bear archery from the parking lot Fred Bear's parking place
Photos courtesy M. V. Rancich

Hunting Arrows
by Fred Bear
Ye Sylvan Archer, February 1943

The Essentials of Archery
How to make bows and arrows
L. E. Stemmler, 1942

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