The Markham Chicago wooden BB gun Sire to Daisy!

by B.B. Pelletier

Before I start, an announcement from Pyramyd Air. The dollar exchange rate is forcing a price increase on Air Arms guns, effective at the start of January. At this time, it isn’t clear whether this will be across the board or if certain models will remain where they are now. The amount of increase appears to be around five percent. If you have any plans to buy Air Arms products, please be advised of the proposed increase.

Now, to today’s gun. I love looking at these vintage and antique airguns, and today I have one that’s been on my radar for more than half my life. Decades ago, these BB guns made mostly of wood were surfacing at the gun shows I attended in the Kentucky-Indiana region. The asking price 30 years ago was around $75. I didn’t know whether that was worth it or not, so I hung back and missed out on a raft of wooden BB guns. In those days, I owned an FWB 124 and a Diana model 10 target pistol and thought of myself as a firearms guy who also shot airguns. There were few books and fewer magazines about airguns in those days, and what there was, wasn’t very good.

The Markham company, the inventor of the modern BB gun (not Daisy, as I will explain in a moment), started in 1886 with the Chicago model. Captain Markham, whose life story is quite interesting, began production of a spring-piston airgun made mostly of wood in Plymouth, Michigan. His plant was situated very near the Plymouth Iron Windmill Company that would soon start making an all-metal BB gun of their own, but Markham’s was first by two years.

The Blue Book of Airguns puts the start of the Markham presence in BB guns in 1887, but as you will learn, Daisy had a vested interest in the date this company began. And back in the early 20th century, they put the date at 1886.


Markham Chicago (1886-1910) was a BB gun made of wood!

The Chicago model was sold by Sears & Roebuck for 97 cents. It was the longest-lived model of the wooden BB guns and lasted until about 1910. It is by far the most commonly encountered wooden BB gun today.

The gun is made from hard rock maple with metal parts attached where needed, not that much different than modern polymer-framed handguns such as the Glock. It broke in the center, and a stiff wire pushed the piston and mainspring back until another bent and flattened wire formed into a trigger blade and sear caught it. The gun is unique in that there is no end to the compression chamber. The breech of the barrel serves that purpose!


A heavy wire catch was held by a staple to hold the barrel shut…


…until released by the shooter for cocking and loading.


The gun is a breakbarrel. It hasn’t begun to cock the mainspring yet!


The compression chamber that houses the piston has no end! It uses the rear of the barrel as an end of the chamber. The piston is inside that iron tube.

The metal piston rides inside an open-ended iron liner that serves as the compression chamber.

The result of the piston slamming to a stop against the rear of the barrel thousands of times has cracked many of the existing specimens in the vicinity of the breech. This is the most common fault found in the gun.


A common cabinet hinge holds the front and rear halves of the gun together!

The gun is 33″ long and weighs 1 lb., 14 oz. Of course the weight will vary a little with the wood. It feels light and toy-like and is proportioned for a child. There is no triggerguard (!) or safety, because this is the most rudimentary gun possible, yet it’s constructed well enough to have lasted more than a century. My gun has been rebuilt with a weaker mainspring and a fresh leather breech seal, not that I will ever shoot it.

To make the gun ready to shoot, the action is unlatched, then the barrel is broken down the same as with any breakbarrel. Once the sear catches the piston connecting rod, a BB is loaded into the breech. The barrel is closed and latched, making the gun ready to fire.

The sights are extremely fundamental and fixed. Any corrections are made by aim-off, also known as Kentucky windage.


Rear sight is inlet into a saw cut.


Front sight is a simple bead. Adjustment is not possible.

From written reports of the period, I know that the Chicago was a weak shooter compared to the early Daisy. Both fired lead balls in the shotgun size known as BB, which is larger than size B and smaller than size BBB. Nominally, it is 0.180″ (4.57mm) in diameter and weighs around 9 grains. BB shot is available today, but it isn’t common. To get lead BB shot may take some doing, so collectors who still shoot their early BB guns often substitute .177 lead balls.

In 1895, Plymouth Iron Windmill changed its name to the Daisy Manufacturing Company. In 1916, they bought the Markham King company. That’s the source of their claim to have been in the BB gun business since 1886, when the first Iron Windmill guns weren’t made until the late 1887 and didn’t start selling until 1888. Daisy operated Markham King as a separate company for many years, even though they were in direct competition with them.

In 1890, the Markham company brought out the King single-shot, their first metal BB gun. The wooden Chicago continued to be made for another 15 years, and Daisy brought the name back in 1917 as the New Chicago, a metal gun bearing little resemblance to the original wood gun.

I think this model is a sleeper among today’s collectible BB guns. You can still buy quite a nice, all-original gun for under $500, and my rebuilt gun cost only $280. I have seen guns in need of cosmetic repair for a flat $200. A first-model Daisy that is contemporary to the Chicago starts at $3,500 and goes up quickly. I think the Chicago’s wooden construction holds the price down. While there are many collectors of cast iron BB guns, there are few specializing in wooden ones. Many of these old guns have cracks around the spot where the barrel breaks open, and old repairs are seen often.

In terms of numbers, there are certainly more wooden Chicagos still around than there are first-model Daisys, but not an overwhelming number because this gun was seen as more disposable than the Daisy. So, maybe there are 4 Chicagos for every first model Daisy, or something like that. That means it’s still easy to find one if you want to add this kind of airgun to your collection. There were probably 10 Chicagos and 5-6 first-model Daisys for sale at the recent Roanoke sirgun show.

44 thoughts on “The Markham Chicago wooden BB gun Sire to Daisy!

  1. BB
    Im always amazed on how things where keept simple but functional. Dreaming back to those days this had to bring the same joy to young shooters, as todays Red Ryder still brings for many.

    What is the rod under the buttstock used for?

    JoeG from Jersey


  2. Jersey Joe,

    That rod is to clear the barrel if a BB gets stuck. It’s not the original rod, because they are often lost.

    B.B.




  3. BB

    Off topic for just a bit please.

    What is your opinion of BSA air rifles, why doesn’t PA carry them?
    And what is your take on “free floating” barrels that are attached at the breech only?

    If anyone has any experiance with these, please chime in.

    Thanks
    TIRU


  4. B.B.,

    I’ve wondered about the BSA question asked by TIRU as well. I handled one of their modern Lightnings and it fell pretty good. I looked for them on PA and saw they did not offer them. Just curious about your thoughts on them.

    LS


  5. B.B.

    I do very much like the way you give serious attention to aspects of airgunning that many might be disposed to pass over. It allows you to see the value that is there.

    Thanks for your input about the Walther Nighthawk mystery. I have the solution. Certainly the muzzle compensator was the source of the problem, but what baffled me is that the bore looked perfectly straight and it worked fine on the pistol without the rails. I took the rails off again and sure enough there are two identical holes for the odd-shaped piece that joins the two rails to the gun. I had focused on the wrong hole without looking further. I made the change and the bore came flush with the ends of the rails and the pistol works fine. My theory is that the loosened compensator allowed gas to bleed out of the barrel so that by the time the pellet emerged from the compensator, it had almost no velocity at all. An airgunsmith is born….

    By the way, does anyone know of a situation where someone would want to dress up a real gun the way the Walther Nighthawk is dressed up with rails, red-dot scope, and flashlight? If you want this much accuracy and cannot holster the weapon, why not go with a carbine? I’m very anxious that my action fantasies have no basis…. Seriously, though, I am curious.

    One more thing, B.B., thanks for your lighting suggestion. The sight picture is sharper and I believe responsible for the improved groups I am shooting. I shot a five-shot group into .13 CTC standing at 20ft with the IZH although that was probably luck. But .25 groups are not uncommon. The Daisy Avanti Precision sight was a disaster, though–it kept slipping off and was too dark to use. I’m waiting on the Mendoza.

    Matt


  6. TIRU and Loneshooter,

    Years ago when Compasseco imported BSA guns, Pyramyd Air did stock and sell them. But now the guns are imported by Airguns of Arizona and the price points no longer make sense for Pyramyd to sell them.

    BSA airguns are wonderful guns in most respects. Their barrels are as accurate as Lothar Walther and many custom guns like Whiscombe have used them.

    They are also well-finished in all respects. Gamo owns a controlling interest in BSA, but they allow the company to operate on its own, plus they make some of Gamo’s airguns for them.

    The only negative thing I can say about BSA spring guns is they do not disassemble as easily as many other spring guns, so they are harder to work on. That’s why you’ll find fewer aftermarket tuneup parts for them.

    B.B.


  7. Matt,

    Good for you! You found the problem.

    Do real people ever carry dressed up firearms like the Nighthawk? Well, yes, they do, but only for bragging rights. The “mall ninjas,” as they are called, do dress up their guns and take them out to the range from time to time, but about the only people who shoot full-dressed guns for serious are the IPSC competitors.

    Good news on the diopter sight, too. You have stepped up to the next level of accuracy with open sights. In a year, you won’t be able to relate to newcomers! ;)

    B.B.


  8. BB

    Thanks for the info on BSA. But you overlooked the question
    about the free floating barrels. What is your take on them?
    Pros, cons? Other than they look like they may be easy to bend or knock out of alignmnet.

    Again Thanks

    TIRU


  9. TIRU,
    Free floating barrels are supposed to increace accuracy because the barrel is only in contact with the breach. This makes it vibrate the same with every shot. Also the barrel is not influenced by your hand on the forward stock. If you think about it all breakbarrels are free floating in a way. This is the way i understand it.

    Nate in Mass


  10. TIRU,

    I remember seeing a show about sniper rifles and if I remember right those rifles had free floating barrels. I makes sense that less barrel touching the stock would produce a more accurate gun but I dont know either.

    Kyle


  11. TIRU,

    Nate got it right. Repeatable vibration patterns is what a free-floating barrel is all about. However, there are two other different side effects. With a wooden stock, as the barrel heats up it expands and causes pressure changes against the stock, if it is in contact with the wood. Free-floating takes care of that.

    I own a Mauser .30-06 sporter that was stocked in the 1950s, when it was popular to stock rifles with upwards pressure on the barrel. If I shoot a 5-shot group with that rifle quickly, it prints a “J” pattern, with the first shot at the tip of the J and the last at the top.

    In a PCP, as the air exhausts the resevoir contracts like a metal balloon. If it is in contact with the barrel, it will move it as it contracts. That’s the other advantage.

    B.B.


  12. In response to Nate in MA from yesterday – I’m due to receive a UTG shadow ops soon, and a friend down South is supposedly working on custom springs for airsoft rifles. I’ll try to mention the outcome at some point if it’s noteworthy.


  13. Airdog,
    Be carfull of upgrades. Airsoft is not meant for the abuse of heavier springs. i once tried putting just a spring in an airsoft rifle and within 10 shots i had stripped the piston. I later read i needed a different piston and trigger assembly to make it work. Im not saying its imposible but you need all the right parts. The shadow ops has a very high velocity for an airsoft gun to start with. How high are you looking to go?

    Nate in Mass



  14. B.B.,

    So Air Arms prices are going up? Just when I was thinking about buying a left-handed TX-200 that’s already $100 more than the righ-handed version, this happens. They are also out of stock untill February to boot. The woes of being a southpaw never end.

    Shawn


  15. Pomona sells the walnut / thumbhole / side-lever s410 for $1070. Why does pyramid sell it for $170 more than them and then plan on raising the price? I have bought 2 guns from him and they were both at my door promptly and without a scratch on them. Pyramid will not sell them is they up the price.

    Just curios what that $170 goes to!

    -sumo



  16. Nate in MA – I think my friend is thinking of gaining around 100 fps, but you’re proably right about strain on the piston assembly. That said, the heaviest pellets might offset this a bit.


  17. Sumo,
    I was looking at the Pomona stuff and on some things they are cheaper, and on others they are more expensive. Just depends on what you want at the moment. Pricing is just a business decision based on a multitude of factors.

    Whenever I order from Pyramyd I ALWAYS take advantage of their 10% off coupons that come in their newspaper flyers in the mail, or through their email news that I signed up for. I live in Virginia so Pyramyd’s standard shipping gets to me in 2 days, Californis is 5.

    Competition is a good thing, it keeps everybody honest, and before its all over, I imagine we’ve all distributed plenty of money to plenty of vendors. LOL. Keep that collection of airguns growing!

    Its raining outside here and I keep thinking of that 30 yd indoor range you mentioned you’ve got. Sweet!
    Have a great day!
    Pestbgone


  18. Shawn,
    Im left eye dominant as well and it just makes everything harder. I’d really like to see how many airgunners are lefties and if its really a small enough number for the companys to overlook. Besides going to custom stock makers I guess theres really no way around it.

    Nate in Mass


  19. pestbgone,

    I bought a .22 trap from pyramid and set it up in my basement about 3 weeks ago. I only tested it with a daisy 880 in my basement. With the full ten pumps the pellets still exploded on impact. I mentioned this daisy before; it can shoot 7.9 cp’s at 830 fps (with 50 pumps).

    The thing is there are six people and 2 dogs funning around the house. I am not worried about shooting anyone but poisoning them with lead dust. Any solutions?

    -sumo




  20. Sumo,

    Keep the trap in a large cardboard tray that can be vaccuumed out periodically (one a week or so). DO NOT WASH THE AREA WITH WATER, or you will never get rid of the lead dust. Only vaccuum.

    Any time lead gets over 600 f.p.s. it starts fragmenting. Above 700 it begins vaporizing. You see that as a spark.

    B.B.


  21. Sumo,
    I made a silent trap like BBs with about 2″ of duct seal stuffed into it. Bought the stuff at Lowes. Just do “silent trap” in the blog search.
    Handles 22FPE without a whimper. The pellet gets stuck; no dust at all.
    I wonder if you could mash some of the duct seal onto the backstop of the trap you have? The duct seal is very sticky.
    I bet some of the sites that sell stuff for indoor pistol ranges have info on lead dust hazards. Young children are much more likely to develop brain damage from lead than adults so your concerns are very real, especially if you have kids/grandkids around.
    Pestbgone


  22. Sumo,

    I have found stacked newspapers to be effective. After 1000+ shots the pellets have penetrated about 1 ½ in.; the rifle has mv of approx 600fps. We put newspapers in cat food sacks to take to recycling bins, so I use a sack of papers as a backstop. I know B.B. cautions that pellets will eventually penetrate paper, wood, sand etc. so I put a piece of steel behind the papers so I could hear if pellets penetrated the newspapers.

    From your blog comments I expect you like higher powered air guns inside as well as out, but I think lower mv guns work better inside.

    Farmer


  23. BB, pesatbgone, farmer,

    thanks guys. Now I have a project for the day.I guess i don’t need to worry about the dust blowing around the house; being lead = heavy.

    Farmer, i agree but don’t want to face that fact.

    -sumo


  24. bb,

    youve always said that cp’s dirty the barrel if they get to 900 fps, but other ppl have had fouling with slower velocities…just out of curiosity, ould you either do a blog on it, or give a detailed answer as to what speed you can use them without fouling the barrel?

    thanks,

    DED



  25. sumo,
    I’d worry far more about the lead dust generated in the firing cycle and sprayed out the barrel.

    Any Talon SS owner can see the build up inside the frame and end cap.

    See also the image posted on AOA’s blog of the FX Revolution end cap.

    That end cap catches a lot of lead dust, but it ain’t catching all of it. Where do you think the rest goes???


  26. BB,
    I LIVE IN INDONESIA, CAN I BUY FROM PYRAMYD AIR AND HAVE THE GUN SHIPPED TO MY COUNTRY? AND WHAT ABOUT THE SHIPING COST?
    I CONTACTED PYRAMYD AIR ABOUT THIS A FEW DAYS AGO AND HAVENT GOT THE REPLY.

    REGARDS

    HAQUE


  27. B.B.
    I want to tune up my gun. The thing is I dont know where to buy the velocity tar. There arent such things where I live, I mean to go to a gun store and find all the things I need for the tune up. Any ideas where can I find these products?
    Another thing, how can I clean the barrel of an underlever with a breach loading meachanism (HW57)? There is no space for the brush to come out.


  28. Mixalis,

    The only place that sells velocity tar that I know of is Jim Macarri’s website Air Rifle Headquarters. They also have tune kits that include machined spring guides with tight tolerances. If you ask nice enough he may have a full power kit for a HW57. He made a batch of Webley Scott piston seals when I asked about them. I’m not sure what his shipping policy is if you live outside the US.

    I used a piece of string trimmer line with a small melted blob on one end and a sharp point on the other to pull cotton patches through my Diana 46E underlever. Don’t get them too tight in the barrel or the melted end could brake off. The only way to get that out is with a rod.

    Shawn


  29. If its not velocity tar then something close to it. Im not in the US. Isnt there a tar that its good enought to use it and I can find it in hardware stores or elsewhere?
    Thnks.


  30. Leading with Crosman pellets (ALL their lead pellets are harsdened with antimony and will lead the bore) depends on both velocity and the condition of the bore they are shot through. If it is smooth, they can go faster without leading.

    My TX 200 shoots CP Lites at 930 and doesn’t lead up. But I’ve seen Weihrauchs and Theobens lead at 900.

    So the velocity at which barrels lead up isn’t always the same.

    B.B.


  31. Mixalis,

    If a brush won’t come out of the bnore then you don’t want to use one, because it could get stuck in the barrel. So forget cleaning.

    As for velocity tar, surely you have a tractor supply store or a large hardward store you can order from? Ge the thickest, most viscous grease you can buy. Open gear lubricant works well as velocity tar.

    B.B.



  32. Haque,

    Here is your answer from Pyramyd Air regarding shipping to Indonesia:

    Pyramyd Air ships products internationally, but many countries have restrictions on our items. It is up to you to know the laws in your location. Contact your customs service to get the required import permits for the items you order. If you order an item that is confiscated by your customs service, Pyramyd Air is not responsible for the loss nor will it reimburse you for the cost of the impounded products or their shipment.

    To place an order, use our online system. We will contact you by email to verify that our terms are accepted. Once you have agreed to our terms, we will give you a final shipping cost and a total cost for your entire order. Do not make payment until we have given you the final total.

    We do accept American Express and Discover credit cards from international customers, wire transfer or PayPal. Wire transfers have an additional fee of US$48.00 for bank processing. For shipment of airguns, there may be an additional charge for inland shipping from US$150.00-250.00. Shipping charges calculated by Pyramyd Air are from our door to the destination airport. Other charges may also apply, dependent on the arrival destination.

    If you agree with these terms, contact us via e-mail at sales@pyramydair.com. If you have more questions, write or call us at 216-896-0893. Our customer service department is open Monday-Friday, 9AM to 7PM and Saturday 11AM to 5PM (all times are Eastern U.S. time).

    B.B.


  33. Lucky find on that Markham! The only one I’ve actually seen is at the Plymouth Historical Museum in Plymouth Michigan. The director at the time was even kind enough to let me handle it.


  34. WelshWebb,

    Markhams come up at airgun shows pretty regularly. I usually see 2 to 4 per large show. The problem is their condition. The wood cracks from impact of the piston and then the gun cannot be fired. The hinges also get loose, but they can be repaired.

    You don’t want to shoot this gun very much. It’s mostly for hanging on the wall.

    B.B.



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