With a talent for all things mechanical, Richard “Dick” Speer started CCI (Cascade Cartridge, Inc.) in Lewiston, Idaho, in 1951, after realizing his brother Vernon’s success with Speer Bullets. Despite being a comparative latecomer to the United States ammunition manufacturing world, CCI is an innovator that never skimps on quality.
The Humble Beginnings of CCI Ammo
Speer was known as something of a mechanical whiz kid. His father, a former farmer, took up mechanical tasks, eventually leaving the family farm to work for Maytag’s engineering department. Dick’s experience as a machinist at Boeing Aircraft’s Seattle plant gave him the ability to produce quality cases, which began in a small room at his brother’s Speer Bullets plant. The component bullet business was already booming at his brother’s factory. Speer saw that as an opportunity for making reloaders and more specialized ammunition for competitive shooters.
Speer Bullets had already made a mark in the world of ammunition. Jacketed bullets, gun supplies for sportsmen and ammunition loading equipment were its main wheelhouses. Reloader manuals produced by the company were generally considered to be “Bibles” of the craft. It was from this pedigree that Richard emerged.
The first place Speer and partner Arvid Nelson found success was manufacturing proprietary rifle cartridges for smaller ammunition manufacturers like Newton and Weatherby. The bigger ammo companies weren’t providing adequate support, so Speer and partner stepped in to fill the gap. This is when Speer left Seattle and settled in Lewiston. After two name changes prompted by confusion with Speer’s brother’s company (they were first known as "Forged from Solid" before briefly trading under the “Speer Cartridge Works” moniker), the pair settled on the CCI name known around the globe today.
The manufacturing quality was already in place. However, World War II had created a scarcity of the necessary raw materials. The war effort had eaten up cartridge-quality brass, but there was one product allowing Speer the opportunity to produce a quality product that was in very short supply – component primers for reloaders. While their intention was to build primers for hobby reloaders, their first shipment was actually to fulfill a military contract. Speer went on to create non-corrosive and non-mercuric sporting cartridges.
CCI Ammunition Grows and Innovates
Rising popularity led Speer to purchase a 17-acre chicken ranch just a mile from his brother’s plant and right down the street from a local gun club. With a farmhouse for an office and a renovated chicken coop for a production facility, Speer added manufacturing buildings and expanded the product line. This farm-turned-plant continues to produce ammunition to this day.
However, Speer didn’t stop at a simple manufacturing facility. The complex also included modern laboratories to allow the company to research and innovate in the world of ammunition. This lead to the hiring of Dr. Victor Jasaitis, a refugee from Lithuania, which was illegally occupied by the Soviet Union at the time.
As a result of the secret treaty between the USSR and Nazi Germany, Lithuania was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union twice – once during the war and once after. This was never recognized by any country outside of the Warsaw Pact nations. The Western world continued to consider the Baltic States to be illegally occupied. And while the numbers are a bit opaque, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians fled the Red Army, both during and after the war, among them Dr. Jasaitis.
The Soviet’s loss was America’s gain. Known as “Doc” to the employees at CCI, Dr. Jasaitis specialized in the chemistry of explosives and became head of CCI’s chemicals division. His work developed new and innovative chemicals, as well as revolutionary primer manufacturing processes. He remained with the company for 26 years, helping them to stand at the forefront of ammunition innovation in the United States.
Perhaps this is how CCI was able to turn out such a superior quality primer. A Portland, Oregon-based barrel marker used CCI primers to set a handloader record in Johnstown, New York, in 1955. He averaged .343 inch with five, 10-shot groups. One group came in at .244 inch. This was groundbreaking and revolutionary at the time, but by no means the last championship won with CCI primers.
All told, the CCI complex includes its own metal fabrication shop, tool and die shop, a chemical and physical research facility, among other specialized, dedicated areas – all encompassing seven buildings sitting on six acres. This is where Doc worked. Such was his craftsmanship that when CCI received a $288,000 government contract, the government specifically requested primers made to Doc’s specifications, not the government’s usual standards.
The Korean War provided an early boost for CCI’s fortunes. Armed with Doc, Speer turned his attention toward military-grade primers just in time for the escalation of America’s “Forgotten War.”
CCI Stinger Ammo and Other Popular CCI Ammunition
By the late 60s, Omark Industries purchased CCI and turned its focus onto sporting ammo and components, making it their in-house source of loads for the powder-actuated tools they manufactured. It was from this that CCI Stinger ammo – the world’s first hypervelocity .22 Long Rifle ammo (commonly known as CCI ammo 22lr) – was born. Today, CCI is part of Vista Outdoor, which is itself a spinoff of Alliant Techsystems. To this day, CCI still provides jobs to over 1,000 people in and around Lewiston, Idaho.
Speer retired with his wife to Chesapeake Bay, but never lost the enterprising spirit that allowed CCI to compete with much larger ammunition manufacturers. He invented a tennis ball serving machine, the Apollo Wizard, which quickly became the gold standard in its field. Two years later, he became the first person to figure out how to get a serving machine to give a ball some spin and went ahead and patented that while he was at it. He sold this company as well before he passed away in 1994.
In the years since, CCI revolutionized and dominated the reloading market, with comprehensive primer improvements like smooth feeding through automated equipment, reduced residue in non-magnum primers, improved primer seating, and better sensitivity. They have also perfected the first hypervelocity .22 Magnum Rimfire cartridge as well as added new rimfire products – including the Mini-Mag™ (CCI Mini-Mag™ bulk purchases are some of the most popular in the current market), Silhouette, Segmented Hollow Point, and Velocitor™ (the fastest 40-grain .22 LR load on the market).
CCI has not stopped growing as a technological leader and innovator in the world of ammunition. In August 2017, crowds turned out in Lewiston for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 37,000-square-foot addition to the old chicken farm. The new high-tech addition to the facility will crank out .22-caliber rimfire ammunition. While outside vendors supplied the equipment, most of it was designed by CCI’s in-house engineers, custom-built for their purposes. The goal is not only a superior product, but also a reduction in overall production time, allowing the organization to better meet market needs.
Instead of relying on century-old technology like other companies, Speer’s innovative approach resulted in high-performance products that have made CCI known as today’s leader in rimfire ammunition.
Beyond providing superior ammo, CCI is a member of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and remains engaged in legislative and regulatory challenges to the Second Amendment.