The origins of the original Military Armament Corporation date back to 1966, when Mitchell WerBell III, a former World War II OSS officer, decided to go into the suppressor business. WerBell called his company Sionics; an organization that specialized in counterinsurgency equipment. The name Sionics was an acronym and stood for Studies in Operational Negation of Insurgency and Counter Subversion. Sionics was located on WerBell’s estate (aka The Farm) near Powder Springs, Georgia. According to Sionics, Inc. company literature, the organization was, “Established as a research and development corporation, and sales coordinator for all branches of the U.S. Military.”
Sionics Sound Suppressors
The principal product of Sionics was their sound suppressors (silencers), produced exclusively for covert operations by military and CIA type organizations. The suppressors that Sionics designed and sold used a combination of baffles, spirals and wipes to suppress muzzle blast. Mitchell WerBell’s achievements in suppressor design were once regarded as the most significant advancements since Hiram Maxim’s silencers were introduced at the turn of the century. WerBell was granted two patents covering his designs. Initially, the Sionics’ line consisted of suppressors for U.S. rifles, primarily the M14 and M16, as well as suppressors for pistols and submachine guns. At approximately the same time WerBell was establishing Sionics in Georgia, Gordon Ingram, living out in southern California, was attempting to interest a foreign or domestic firearms company in manufacturing his latest submachine gun design the Model 10. Despite Ingram’s best efforts, no offers were forthcoming.
During 1969, Mitch WerBell was planning a business trip to South Vietnam in order to demonstrate his company’s suppressors. Prior to this trip, WerBell and Ingram were unknown to each other; however, mutual friend Thomas B. Nelson knew both men and their respective talents. Upon learning of WerBell’s proposed trip, Mr. Nelson suggested that he make a stop over in Los Angeles and meet with Ingram. WerBell contacted Ingram and arranged to meet him at the VIP lounge in the Los Angeles Airport. After preliminary introductions, Ingram got down to the business at hand, explaining to WerBell his simple, easy to manufacture submachine gun design. Ingram opened up a small case that he had brought with him and showed WerBell one of his prototype .45 caliber Model 10s with suppressor. Duly impressed with Ingram’s submachine gun, WerBell struck a tentative deal with Ingram whereby he would assume possession of Ingram’s submachine guns; and take them to Vietnam for demonstration along with his Sionics suppressors.
Despite all of the previous rejections of his submachine gun by the firearm’s industry, Ingram’s weapon, with its compact size and high cyclic rate, was a big hit in Vietnam. Everyone who attended the demonstrations wanted a Model 10. WerBell immediately contacted the Sionics Company officials back in Georgia instructing them to contact Gordon Ingram to begin negotiations for the rights to manufacture his submachine gun.
At the start of the negotiations with Sionics, Ingram was living in southern California with his wife Fernande, daughter Michelle and son Richard. WerBell wanted to hire Ingram as his Chief Engineer to oversee production of the M10 submachine gun. However, Ingram, who was employed as an engineer at Fairchild Hiller Aircraft, was reluctant to quit his job and move to Georgia; but under increasing pressure from WerBell, he eventually gave in and agreed to move. Leaving his family back in California, Ingram went to Georgia and for his first few months there lived in a small apartment on the WerBell property. Ingram’s small living quarters were adjacent to the machine shop then located in the basement of Mitch WerBell’s home. When his family moved to Georgia to join him, Ingram rented an apartment on Franklin Road in Marietta. Ingram signed a contractual agreement to have his Model 10 submachine gun manufactured exclusively by Sionics, Inc. As part of the agreement, all of the prototype Ingram guns were turned over to Mitch WerBell’s Sionics company.
Mitchell L. WerBell III decided that the company’s current name of Sionics was not the best possible name for an organization that would be manufacturing the new Ingram weapon. The company name was then changed from Sionics to Environmental Industries. After a very brief period, WerBell III decided that the new name was inappropriate. He then began to cast about for a suitable name for his organization. A close friend and company employee by the name of Donald (Don) G. Thomas ran his own small Class Three business he called Military Armament. After much coercing, Don agreed to relinquish his trade name to WerBell.
The Quantum Corporation
In 1969, a group of investors from New York know as the Quantum Ordnance Bankers began investing in the Military Armament Corporation. On 11 June 1969, the Military Armament Corporation became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Quantum Ordnance Bankers, Inc. (who later changed their name to the less conspicuous Quantum Corporation) of New York. Quantum, headed by Rosser Scott Reeves III, was a holding company that was formed by a group of wealthy Wall Street financiers, to pump millions of dollars into the fledgling Military Armament Corporation. The deal would eventually prove to be an unfortunate decision for both Mitch WerBell and Gordon Ingram.
Cromwell was formed to be the sales and marketing contract organization for the Military Armament Corporation; the company president was Jon Crawford. The company was established at about the same time that Quantum became involved with MAC. Quantum management believed that highly successful New York businessmen could sell more guns than the knowledgeable gun salesmen in the field. This did not prove to be the case in the weapon’s business.
As production of the Ingram submachine guns increased, the company was rapidly outgrowing the Powder Springs production facility that was located in a small-refurbished boathouse on the WerBell estate. During February of 1970, the company relocated into a much larger production facility at 440 Glover Street in Marietta, Georgia. The old facility on the WerBell Farm in Powder Springs was retained to conduct police sales. A firing range on the WerBell property continued to be used for testing weapons.
A Brief History of 440 Glover Street
Glover Street in Marietta, Georgia was originally named for the Glover Machine Works (GMW) established in 1895. One of the products the company manufactured was steam-powered locomotives and related railroad equipment. GMW had several large buildings and a rail system located directly behind their 440 Glover Street facility. Situated on the property was a foundry, machine shop and pattern room. During the late 1920s, the demand for steam-powered locomotives began to dramatically decline and GMW stopped manufacturing locomotives. However, the company continued to manufacture parts and repair locomotives for many years. The company eventually relocated and transitioned over to the manufacture of other industrial machinery. In 1995, the railroad tracks were removed, and most of the buildings razed.
MAC’s Glover Street Facility
MAC’s new Glover Street facility had a large main floor that contained the corporate offices and the production area and an upper level over the corporate offices housed the engineering department and a prototype shop. The center of the production area was bisected by an old GMW railroad track. When parts arrived from vendors they were placed in a storage area along with the parts that were made at the factory. Along side the railroad tracks were long tables, which served as an assembly line and parts were placed in bins on the tables for workers to access while assembling the submachine guns. A phosphate shop was situated adjacent to the production area for applying finish to components. Once completed, the weapons were sent to the test range for function firing. Under the factory floor was a vault area where completed weapons were stored awaiting shipment. Each weekly “lot” of weapons consisted of anywhere from thirty-five to sixty submachine guns.
As the company was relocating from Powder Springs to Marietta, Georgia, The company address stamped on the Ingram submachine guns made at the new facility was changed from Powder Springs, GA to Marietta, GA. The sales offices that were located in Atlanta and Washington, DC were eventually closed, with all subsequent sales being handled from the Marietta facility. During this period, both Ingram and WerBell were forced from the company by Quantum management. Ingram’s name that appeared on the Model 10 and Model 11 was replaced by the acronym MAC on subsequent production. During 1975, due to a lack of sales, numerous lawsuits and mismanagement, the original Military Armament Corporation filed for bankruptcy. MAC went out of business in 1976.
After the demise of the Military Armament Corporation, three former employees; Ray R. Roby, Charles T. Pitts and Richard W. Brueggeman decided to form their own company to manufacture and continue selling Ingram/MAC submachine guns. Mr. Roby had been a front office man at MAC dealing with finance and accounting and later became Vice President and Treasurer. Mr. Pitts held several mid level management positions; Mr. Brueggeman was Vice President of manufacturing. With their collective knowledge of the business, the three men obtained the exclusive rights to manufacture the Ingram M10 and M11 submachine guns under a new company they named RPB Industries, Inc. The company was officially incorporated on 9 August 1976. The letters “RPB” represented the initials of the new owners’ last names. RPB Industries briefly occupied the building at 440 Glover Street in Marietta, Georgia until a new facility could be found. Eventually the company moved to 1088 Huff Road N.W. in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 2010, while doing research for a new Ingram book project tentatively entitled The MAC Man, former MAC employee Donald G. Thomas and the author visited 440 Glover Street in Marietta. The building is now occupied by the Cobb County Board of Education and utilized as an annex for business and financial services. The front of the building was immediately recognizable from old photos from the 1970 MAC era. We approached the front desk and explained to the young secretary our book project, and asked if we could tour the facility. She said it wouldn’t be a problem and summoned a supervisor who offered to show us around. The gentleman told us that he didn’t know much of the building’s past, but he was aware that machine guns were once manufactured there. In a few rooms, the old 1970s paneling was still in place, but most of the offices had been updated since MAC’s departure in 1976. After seeing the office area on the main floor, we proceeded to the basement, where the manufacture and assembly of the MAC weapons was performed. The railroad tracks that once bisected the building were gone, but that part of the building was also recognizable from old photographs. While touring the basement, we encountered a fellow who told us that he remembered a little about the old “machine gun plant.” He offered to show us the area where the weapons were test-fired. The foam used for insulating the room was still present as were the holes used for the ventilation fans. The man said that he recalled finding numerous spent shell casings in the area when the building was being refurbished.
The original Military Armament Corporation’s occupancy of the 440 Glover Street was quite brief, lasting little more than six years. The final activity there was the famous MAC auction in June, 1976.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V14N5 (February 2011)|