Occupation Founder & President of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing
Ronnie Barrett (born 1954) is an American firearms manufacturer, the founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, and the designer of the first .50 caliber rifle for civilian use.
Life & career
Barrett was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1954, and graduated from Murfreesboro Central High School. He started his career in 1972 as a professional photographer. In 1982, while he owned a photography studio, he got his initial inspiration to create what would become the Barrett signature product. On January 1, 1982, when Barrett was photographing a river patrol gunboat on the Stones River near Nashville, Tennessee, he created an award-winning picture that made him start thinking about the .50 caliber cartridge because of two Browning machineguns mounted prominently on that boat.
Since no commercially available .50 caliber rifle existed at that time, he decided to make a semi-automatic weapon. With no background in manufacturing or engineering, Barrett sketched a cross-sectioned, full-size rifle, adding different components to it. Once he decided on the concept, he approached some machine shops with his drawings. They told him that if his idea was any good, someone smarter would have already designed it.
A few days later, Bob Mitchell, a tool and die maker and machinist in Smyrna, Tennessee, agreed to help. After their regular job responsibilities, the men would start working on Barrett’s ideas, sometimes laboring together all night in a one-bay garage using a small mill and lathe. Barrett also found support from a sheet metal fabricator who allowed him to visit the owner’s shop and work directly with one employee, Harry Watson. The resulting gun was the shoulder-fired Barrett rifle, which was created in less than four months.
While fine-tuning the first prototype rifle, Barrett began designing a second prototype that featured an improved and sleek exterior and other improvements learned from the first prototype. He made a video of the first prototype being fired, then prepared the second prototype so it would set on a table. He displayed the latter at a Houston, Texas, gun show where three people gave him deposits to make a rifle for them.
With a limited amount of money, Barrett set up a small shop at his residence in a gravel-floored garage. He began by building a batch of 30 rifles, mainly because the two wooden gun racks he made in his father’s cabinet shop held 15 rifles each.
Ronnie Barrett Top 10 Award
Using his hand-drawing of the new rifle, he placed an advertisement in Shotgun News and soon sold-out the first batch.
Both of Barrett’s children, Christopher and Angela, began working in the company following graduation from school. Chris brought modernization and technology into the manufacturing operation by introducing the first computers to the design process. Angela joined the team to set up a bona fide marketing and advertising department, which at that point was almost non-existent.
Ronnie and Chris Barrett worked jointly on the Model 98 semi-automatic design. Also at that time, the younger Barrett became the dominant designer with most of the publicly-known work at Barrett Firearms, leading the way with product development.
In the last 100 years, only four individuals have invented firearms adopted by the United States Military. Three were John Browning, John C. Garand, and Eugene Stoner, who had their designs turned over to another industry or the government for development and production. Barrett is the only one to create, manufacture, market and mass-produce his firearm for the United States government, (with the exception of California Law-Enforcement agencies due to California's ban on .50-caliber firearms).
Ronnie Barrett Chinn Award
In 2004, Barrett was honored with the Colonel George Chinn Award which recognizes Small Arms Weaponry Systems based on excellence in research and development, engineering, manufacturing and management.
In 2005, the United States Army recognized the Barrett M107 as one of the Top Ten Greatest Inventions.
On June 28, 2006, Barrett was awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for "turning his idea into one of America's most successful companies".
On May 18, 2009, Barrett was sworn in as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association. His term is for three-years.