Drafted into the armed forces at the age of 33 in 1943, Bruce Hodgdon entered the Navy and began serving as an instructor to aerial gunners. As he listened to a chemist reminisce about World War I, Hodgdon’s ears perked up at the mention of large quantities of surplus smokeless powder being dumped into the ocean after the war.
Hodgdon wisely surmised that World War II might bring about a similar situation once the war concluded and began researching the possibility of purchasing the surplus powder for resale. This was a big risk: Hodgdon had no place to store the gunpowder, and he held reservations about the shooting public’s willingness to purchase the propellant. Still, when the war ended, he purchased 50,000 pounds of surplus 4895 powder.
His marketing strategy began humbly with the purchase of one-inch ad space in the American Rifleman publication. In 1947, he made his first sale: 150 pounds of 4895 powder for $30. The powder was contained in metal cans with hand-glued labels and delivered by Bruce and his two boys, J.B. and Bob. As the business grew, the boys began to deliver shipments of powder to train terminals en route to school.
Soon after, Bruce realized that he could build a loyal customer base by teaching customers how to hand-load and by publishing load data.
Focus on Handloading
Post-World War II, most powder manufacturers in the United States shifted towards a loaded ammunition sales model, all but abandoning the prior model of handloading component sales. As one of the only providers of handloading materials, enthusiasts began experimenting with Hodgdon’s powders and eventually were able to achieve superior ballistic profiles to those provided by mass-produced ammunition.
Before long, customers began to recognize the name “Hodgdon”, associating it with handloading like customers associate Coca-Cola with soft drinks. At this time, the Hodgdons began to expand their product offerings beyond powder, offering reloading components, firearms, and ammunition.
By 1952, the business had picked up remarkably. Bruce quit his day job with the Gas Service Company and officially launched B.E. Hodgdon, Inc.
In the early 60s, Bruce Hodgdon and a coalition of other powder retailers successfully convinced the ICC (the 1960s version of today’s Department of Transportation) to downgrade smokeless powder shipments to the 1.4C classification, which allowed powder retailers to ship their products (under 100 pounds) with any carrier, greatly improving their ability to sell to a wider customer base.
The business expanded rapidly through the 1960s on the heels of this policy change, which led to Hodgdon splitting the business in two: one firearm wholesaling subsidiary, and one powder subsidiary. Eventually, other firearms and ammunition companies noticed the success that Hodgdon Powder was having and began offering their own smokeless powders for sale. Still, Hodgdon Powder maintained a strong customer base, leading the industry through trend after trend.
Hodgdon Powder Company Still Going Strong
Today, Hodgdon Powder Company maintains its status as the elite powder provider even after Bruce’s death in 1997. Manufacturing smokeless propellants that meet the needs of all reloaders, Hodgdon Powder Company currently offers a huge selection of smokeless powder, muzzle-loading powder, and safety fuses, among other products.
Among Hodgdon’s most popular products in the modern day is their Varget powder, which is particularly popular among competitive .223 Remington shooters due to its ability to improve ballistics for .22-250 Remington, .308 Winchester, 30-06, .375 H&H, and other popular rounds.