According to Marvin Hirsch, who was present that evening in the mid-1950s, it all began when a group of veterans meeting at the Winsted, Minn., Legion Hall came to the sage conclusion that they could buy a lot more beer if they had more money. "Reuben [Miller] said we gotta invent an automatic nailer that works like a machine gun," Hirsch recalls.

Many of the guys sitting at the club that night — including Hirsch — had returned from service in World War II and were familiar with machine guns and how they worked. Seizing the inspiration, Hirsch, Miller, and their buddy John Ollig began designing just such a product in Ollig's garage. After developing several workable demonstration models,...

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