WALLA WALLA — Gail Martin, the innovator who built Martin Archery from a small operation making strings and fletching arrows with his bride at their dining room table in the early 1950s into a full-blown three-generation bow manufacturer known across the globe, died Sunday at Providence St. Mary Medical Center. He was 89.
His son Dan Martin said this morning the cause was linked to heart failure.
His death was announced on “Archery Talk,” the online forum and archery community run by his other son Terry Martin. In tributes on the forum’s Facebook page, Martin was called an “icon” and “cornerstone” of the industry.
Inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame two years ago, he is a household name among archers.
His bows have been used for hunting excursions, but also in film and television. Rocker Ted Nugent was a longtime endorser of Martin bows. A Martin Mamba recurve bow launched the flaming arrow at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. For decades the business has been at the forefront of innovation, manufacturing at least 50,000 compound and traditional bows a year at the sprawling Walla Walla plant at 3134 Heritage Road.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Steve Hamilton, owner of Steve’s Archery on Isaacs Ave.
Martin Archery has been on the market, and its future has been less certain in recent years. Dan Martin said this morning a couple of prospective buyers have emerged.
Gail Martin’s love for archery, started at a young age, endured beyond the ebbs and flows of the business tide.
According to the Martin legacy, recounted in news stories over the years, a young Martin shot for the first time an old hickory longbow when he was 14. Instantly hooked he later made his own archery gear while serving in Europe with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II.
When he returned to the states he worked as a government poultry grader and joined a local archery club.
The other members began paying him to fletch — affix turkey feathers onto arrow shafts to keep them flying true.
Gail Martin had also designed a jig to make his own bow strings that didn’t weaken despite being stretched repeatedly. When Bear Archery ordered 500 of them, the business began to soar.
Martin and his wife, Eva, had been juggling day jobs with their archery business. In 1951 they incorporated Martin Archery and initially dealt largely in archery accessories.
They got into bow-making in the 1970s. In 1976, Martin Archery expanded with the purchase of Damon Howatt Archery in Yakima. The two businesses were merged under one roof just a couple of years ago.
Born Sept. 7, 1923, in Ukiah, Ore., Martin moved to the Walla Walla Valley as a 12-year-old.
Dan Martin he marveled as he and his brother traveled to trade shows with their father, watching fans request autographs from their dad.
“There were just an awful lot of people that would express their joy at being able just to talk to him,” Dan said. “He never ever thought he was better than anybody. He pretty much got along with everybody.”
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.