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The Rise and Fall of the Army Surplus Store

Army (and/or Navy) surplus stores were once wonderful places to find bargains on well-made goods, if they have something you need or want. There aren’t nearly as many of them as there used to be. When I was a kid, almost every town had at least one. When a war is over or when the military changes the design of weapons, uniforms, tents, tools, or whatever, the leftovers go for pennies on the dollar. The surplus store owes its nationwide popularity to one person, Francis Bannerman. Yes, that the same Francis Bannerman who built that castle on an island in New York.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Francis (who, let’s keep in mind, was only 14 years old) used profits from his scrap metal business to acquire large lots of military surplus at government auctions. One particularly successful acquisition netted him over 11,000 captured Confederate guns. Because the teenage entrepreneur bought this gear at such heavily discounted prices, he was able to mark it up so the products remained a bargain for the customer, while still netting himself a nice profit.

Plenty of entrepreneurs followed Bannerman’s example in the golden age of military surplus stores. You can read the entire history of the phenomenon at the Art of Manliness. -Thanks, John Farrier!


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