Interarms an Potomac Arms in Alexandria

The End of An Era

After the dust had settled from World War II, tons of military surplus arms and ammunition became available on the open market. The war may have been over but cold war tensions were high and many countries sought to rearm themselves with more modern automatic weapons. While still perfectly serviceable, the older weapons and the ammumnition that went with them were thought of as obsolete and were often sold by these nations very cheaply. Here in America, millions of bargain hungry GIs and others eagerly scooped them up as fast as they could be imported. There was no bigger player in this market than Interarms, which had a warehouse complex in the City of Alexandria for more than fourty years.


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Interarms

Interarms dock and Warehouses, Port of Alexandria, Virginia.
The square building with the brown two tone roof on the bottom right hand corner
of the image is Potomac Arms at zero Prince Street.

The image above from a post card shows the Interarms facility in Alexandria, circa 1963. The photograph may have been taken in honor of Interarms 10th anniversary(Interarms Ad 1963).

At the age of 26, Samuel Cummings founded the International Armament Corporation which later came to be known as Interarms. A former CIA agent, Cummings brokered firearm deals for the newly formed intelligence organization and saw an opportunity to strike out on his own.

Over the years questions and rumours swirled around Interarms and its enigmatic owner, mostly regarding his former or ongoing relationship with the CIA. He certainly had a knack for making deals on weaponry.

In one of his greatest financial coups, Cummings stockpiled over 700,000 small arms in his Alexandria Virginia warehouse just before the Gun Control Act of 1968 banned the importation of military firearms into the U.S.

Although Interarms started by importing military surplus arms, they also imported a great variety of newly manufactured sporting and military style firearms sourced from many countries.

There were Rossi revolvers from Brazil, Walther pistols from West Germany, bolt action rifles from Yugoslavia and from Mainland China, Norinco rifles and pistols copied from classic designs. By the time Samuel Cummings died on April 29, 1998 he was the largest private small arms dealer in the world with sales of 80 to 100 million dollars a year.

Interestingly enough, though Interarms' U.S. operation appeared to be thriving, the Alexandria facility did not stay in operation for very long after it's founder had passed on, closing about 1999.

A bit of a side note, is that Cummings' daughter, Susan Cummings was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend, Roberto Villegas.

Villegas was shot while sitting at the kitchen table in her home September 7, 1997. She was sentenced to 60 days in jail and served 51 days before being released. No information was available as to whether or not she aquired the firearm from Interarms.

Potomac Arms

Just a stones throw from Interarms was Potomac Arms at Zero Prince Street, a well known gun store with an odd address and a great view of the Potomac River.

Founded in 1963 by a former employee of Interarms, John C. Richards, the business occupied the second floor of a quirky cinderblock building that began its life as the Beachcombers Restaurant. Built in 1947, the restaurant had been was set on concrete pilings in the river beyond the low water mark, apparently so that the restaurant would be within the boundry of the State of Maryland where regulations regarding the serving of alcohol were much less stringent than those of Virginia. To access the establishment, patrons had to use a gang plank extending from the shoreline to the restaurant.

Despite the novelty of being perched over the water and its' scenic views, by 1954, the Beachcombers Restaurant had folded. For a time the building was used by Interarmco for storage until Potomac Arms opened its doors.

Within a few years of Potomac Arms' opening, the water between building and the shoreline was filled in with concrete waste putting the building within the boundry of the Virginia.

Potomac Arms became a major mail order retailer of firearms and ammunition obtained from Interarms and for a time the building housed the retail outlet of Interarms, variously named "Ye Olde Hunter" and "Hunters Haven" on the first floor.

Despite the loss of its mail order business due to the Gun Control Act of 1968, Potomac Arms was still a major player in the surplus arms market in Northern Virginia. At various times in the early 1990s one could take their pick of any number of Chinese SKS rifles or British Lee Enfield rifles for 99 dollars apiece. If you were willing to spend a little more you could buy a Mak 90 or and M1 carbine for 200 dollars.

In later years one of Richard's sons opened a military surplus store called Full Metal Jacket in the space below the gun store. Carrying an interesting and eclectic mix of surplused equipment from various countries, it was always worthwhile stopping by even though the prices on many items seemed excessively high.

Potomac Arms closed its doors in 2006 when the building and land were sold by their owners to the City of Alexandria.


Interarms Advertisement American Rifleman Mar. 1963
William Armistead "ARSENAL ON THE POTOMAC" Guns Oct. 1959 p. 29-31, 43-44
Carter Fenwick "Full Metal Jacket and Potomac Arms to Retreat" Alexandria Times 7 Jun. 2006 http://www.alextimes.com/news/2006/jun/07/full-metal-jacket-and-potomac-arms-to-retreat/ Accessed Dec 10, 2010
Ricker, Diane "0 Prince Street: A Timeline" City of Alexandria-Office of Historic Alexandria 2008

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