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Preview – Zeroed In – Bill Rogers

Photography by Henry Z. De Kuyper

Forrest Gump’s Got Nothing on Bill Rogers, Who’s Been Present at the Birth of Many Innovations in the Shooting World

Bill Rogers may very well be the most prolific innovator in the firearms world since John M. Browning. The amount of everyday shooting products that have sprung from his brain (and that we take for granted) is too numerous to list in this article. For example, this former FBI agent devised the first Kydex holster, the first paddle holster, the first “security” holsters designed for retention, the electronic shot timer, and the squeegee bore cleaning device — just to name a few. To this day, Rogers designs, tests, and produces the molds for every Safariland holster produced.

As a young G-man, Bill was disappointed with both the firearms training that he received and the equipment that he was issued. As a kid growing up in rural central Florida, Rogers learned to shoot to both control pests and keep himself entertained. Whether it was shooting at a raccoon on his family’s property or at a clay target on the skeet range, his targets rarely, if ever, stood still. When he realized his life’s dream and arrived at the FBI academy at Quantico, he found an antiquated shooting program with targets and time limits that were more suitable for a bull’s-eye match than a gunfight. Always the tinkerer, Bill developed a moving target system in his garage using a motor and two large spools of paper. Around the same time, Bill developed and built the first-ever Kydex holster and a patented process of lining the holster with suede to protect the firearm’s finish.

Recognizing a man’s accomplishments is one thing, but we wanted to get to know the man himself, get inside his head, and see what makes him tick. Graciously, Bill recently invited us to his plant in Jacksonville, Florida, where he designs and prototypes his various creations, ranging from gun-cleaning equipment to spearfishing gear. So, we sat down with the inventor, businessman, competitive shooter, firearms instructor, and former federal agent to get an insider’s look at how he did (and does) it all.

Preview   Zeroed In   Bill Rogers photoPreview   Zeroed In   Bill Rogers photo

RECOIL: How did you come to invent the Kydex holster?

Bill Rogers: The bureau transferred me to Chicago, and I worked there for several years. This was 1972, and the holster they’d issued us was a leather holster. It changed shape — you’d get in a fight or be chasing somebody and your gun would end up lying on the ground. I grew up in a machine shop, and we built everything ourselves, so I had a lot of experience making things. I’d used fiberglass growing up, so I built the first holster out of fiberglass, but it didn’t hold up. It would crack; it didn’t have the strength.

Kydex had just come out, so I started to play with that and realized that I could make a holster out of it. I designed a Kydex holster and wore it, and it really worked well. I’d show it to the guys on my squad, and they’d ask me to build them one. During the time I was in Chicago, I built about 100 of these holsters. It was slow going; I’d hand-form it, and on a good weekend I could probably make four or five. I’d become really good friends with the armorer at the FBI Academy — because I was a shooter from the start, he kinda took me under his wing. I went back to the academy for in-service, and I showed it to him first. He was in charge of procurement and really liked it.

They sat me down to discuss my career path and were really hyping the lab thing. I told them that I had this shooting career going — I was the state champion in Oklahoma and Illinois, and I’d really like to come back and be a firearms instructor. I told them that their training was like watching paint dry and they were getting their butts kicked in real gun battles. If you can’t shoot the other guy before he shoots you, you’re in real trouble. It was like I’d just called their baby ugly. These guys had come up through the bureau, and they’d done this type of shooting from the beginning. They were hip-shooting, they were point-shoulder shooting — no sights, all one-handed techniques. It was really antiquated. They told me to go back to Chicago and keep my mouth shut. I was kind of dismayed. About six weeks later, I got a call from my friend, the armorer. He’d tested my holster and found that it wore the finish off the guns. If I could solve that problem, he said he’d give me an order.

I’d worked on a case that involved a company that was doing tire capping. I became intrigued by the vulcanization process they used. They used nitrile, which is resistant to all kinds of chemicals, but when you get it to 350 degrees, it will fuse to itself. All the leather glues that I’d tried with Kydex were neoprene-based and broke down at about 200 degrees. I got some of the nitrile, compounded it with methyl ethyl ketone, coated the leather and the Kydex, and put it into the oven — it came out as one unit. That was the thermo-laminate patent: I patented the process to laminate leather to the inside of a sheet material.

Preview   Zeroed In   Bill Rogers photo

I sent it off to the armorer, and he gave me an order for 400 holsters. I told him there was no way I could fill the order working on the weekends. He told me it was a conflict of interest anyway — I’d need to go out and find a holster company to fill the order. I made up some samples and sent them off to every holster company with a copy of my purchase order. They all wrote me letters back and told me I was smoking dope, that no one was gonna buy a Mattel holster. Every single one of them rejected it. I ended up requesting a three-year leave of absence from the bureau to start up my own company and fill the order. I was a 23-year-old kid with a wife and two kids, great health care, the government retirement system, and getting paid really well. My wife said, “You’re gonna do what?” I sold my house, moved back to Florida, and produced that order for the FBI. And so the Rogers Holster Company was born.

Preview   Zeroed In   Bill Rogers photo

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