It was during this same summer that Olin had his first brush with what he termed "commercialism in sport." One day he was taking eight good fish back to the farm when he met a man with the best fishing outfit he had ever seen.
"I was green with envy," he remembers. "It was funny, because he was just as envious of me. He hadn't caught a fish on all that fine tackle. He wanted to know where I'd caught mine. I pointed to a pool and said, 'There's one right over there.' In three casts I had it. The man was really dumfounded. Then he offered to buy my fish. I took one more long look at his beautiful fishing outfit and thought of all that kale in the corn. But finally I said no thanks, I'd give him the fish."
Along with his knowledge of the outdoors, young Olin, with the same thoroughness, also set about learning all there was to know about his father's explosives business, which even as a small boy he knew would be his life's work. By the age of 16 he was ready for Cornell University, where he mapped out a prodigious chemical engineering program. From Cornell, in 1913, he went directly into his father's company, then Western Cartridge, in East Alton, Illinois, the first trained scientist to be employed by the organization.
From the beginning, Olin applied his practical outdoor experience to his technical training. Every time he went on a hunt, he went with more in mind than sport alone. He personally tested all the new cartridges and shells produced by his company, digging out bullets for laboratory analysis, studying new methods, refusing to accept old ones just because they were in practice. His inquisitive, inventive mind looked steadily into the future, and many of the corporation's new products were his own personal developments. Currently he holds 22 United States patents on them.
The best known of these, his Super-X shotgun shell, grew directly from a hunting experience. Back in the '20s, Olin was waterfowl-hunting one day with a friend who preferred shooting ducks on water rather than in flight. This violation of the ethics of good sportsmanship so outraged Olin that he not only refused to fire a shot but decided to do something positive to prevent his friend from repeating the performance.
In his laboratory, Olin mulled over the problem of increasing velocity, and thus getting greater range from a shell, without increasing pressure in the gun chamber to a dangerous level in the process. By developing pressure over a longer period of time (thereby creating a more satisfactory pressure-velocity relationship) through the use of a progressive-burning smokeless powder, Olin came up with a unique "short shot string" shell which had an extended range of more than 20 yards over that of conventional loads. This development was so radical—and so successful—that Olin called it "super excellent." An associate suggested dropping the "excellent" and calling it simply Super-X.
Armed with a box of Super-X shells, Olin thereupon invited his friend again to do some waterfowl shooting. And every time a duck hove into sight high over the blind, Olin was able to knock it down yards before it dropped in range of his companion's conventional loads. The subsequent popularity of Super-X rocketed Western to the front ranks of U.S. shell manufacturers.
But perhaps Olin's greatest invention, and certainly his proudest, is one on which he holds no patents. This is Nilo Kennels and Farms, the pilot project in 1951 of a vast national experiment in conservation. Like other Olin inventions, this too grew out of his love of the outdoors and his practical view of the future.
A PRACTICAL DEMONSTRATION
As a sportsman and a shell manufacturer Olin was constantly concerned with the long-range effect of the tremendous postwar hunting boom on an already shrinking outdoors. He was afraid that unless constructive measures were taken right away places to hunt in America would eventually vanish completely. One solution, he believed, was the widespread education of hunters to the conservation value of trained dogs in recovering lost and crippled game. Another was the replenishment of wildlife through artificial stocking and scientific improvement of habitat conditions. Olin decided that both of these ideas needed more practical demonstration than they were currently getting.