George Kellgren isn’t exactly famous outside the world of firearms, and in truth, Kellgren isn’t even as recognizable as Colt, Browning or Winchester even to those in the gun industry. Yet, the company he founded has become a major player today and one recognized for its commitment to providing a reliable product at a reasonable price.
In less than three decades, Cocoa, Florida-based Kel-Tec CNC Industries Inc. has established itself as one of the top five handgun companies in the United States and in 2015 dominated sales on the popular GunBroker platform—outselling long-established brands such as Smith & Wesson, Ruger and Sig Sauer. According to a report from NASDAQ, the Kel-Tec PMR-30 was one of the top handguns in terms of overall sales that year.
It is easy to see why.
The PMR-30 can be a fun choice “for plinking if one feels the need to step up from .22 LR. The .22 WMR is significantly more powerful, yet the PMR-30 by all accounts keeps the recoil low and the slide tracking fast for quick and easy shots on target,” according to Charlie Gao.
Kel-Tec is a company with a story that may sound quite familiar.
Much like O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. it was founded by a Swedish immigrant who came to America, worked for smaller firearms manufacturers and then branched out to do something quite different. In this case, it was Göran Lars Magnus Kjellgren—later George Kellgren—who was born in 1943 and went on to work for the Swedish-based Husqvarna Vapenfabrik before he moved to the United States and worked with Intratec, the American arm of Interdynamics.
It was at that firm that the infamous Tec-9 was developed, and where Kellgren began to develop firearms that were smaller and lighter yet have higher magazine capacity and most importantly be more affordable. Kellgren took those principles and in 1991 Kel-Tech was born, and today the company has nearly three hundred employees, many of whom are veterans.
However, with the great demand has come some problems as well. The use of polymers has been an issue—in part because of the immense demand for Kel-Tec products where some firearms may have been rushed out the door once they are considered to be safe and proofed without further testing being done for reliable feeding or cycling. Yet the company’s quality control is now considered to be among one of the best in the business.
Kellgren has continued to participate in the design of every firearm that his company produces and his underlying design principles have remained the same. This is seen in the company’s popular handguns, but also in its RDB, one of the few bullpup rifles available on the civilian market and a reliable alternative to the popular AR-15 platform; and the Sub-2000, a blowback powered semi-automatic rifle that is lightweight, foldable and easy to disassemble for cleaning without tools.
In 2019 the NRA awarded George Kellgren the Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award, which honors outstanding personal achievement. While there are some that may not appreciate his approach to producing lower-cost firearms for the masses, there is no denying he and his company have become innovators and even disrupters in the American firearms industry.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.