By Kerrin Brinkman | November 17 2011 08:36

Poster for the opening of the NRA Creedmor Range in 1873 Fairfax, Virginia -Today marks the 140th birthday of the National Rifle Association, and it's hard not to take a look back at the history of how we got to the place we are today. What started as a marksmanship training effort following the Civil War has evolved into the leading defender in Americans' right to keep and bear arms. Help celebrate the NRA's birthday today by becoming more involved in one of our many programs. From attending a local Friends of NRA Banquet, to trying your hand at competitive shooting, introducing a young person to hunting, or obtaining your concealed carry permit after taking an NRA firearms training course, NRA has a a way for every person to exercise their Second Amendment rights. So join us in wishing NRA a happy birthday, and help us preserve the same rights we've been protecting since 1871.

Dismayed by the lack of marksmanship shown by their troops, Union veterans Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate formed the National Rifle Association in 1871. The primary goal of the association would be to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis," according to a magazine editorial written by Church.

After being granted a charter by the state of New York on November 17, 1871, the NRA was founded. Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who was also the former governor of Rhode Island and a U.S. Senator, became the fledgling NRA's first president.

An important facet of the NRA's creation was the development of a practice ground. In 1872, with financial help from New York state, a site on Long Island, the Creed Farm, was purchased for the purpose of building a rifle range. Named Creedmoor, the range opened a year later, and it was there that the first annual matches were held.

Political opposition to the promotion of marksmanship in New York forced the NRA to find a new home for its range. In 1892, Creedmoor was deeded back to the state and NRA's matches moved to Sea Girt, New Jersey.

The NRA's interest in promoting the shooting sports among America's youth began in 1903 when NRA Secretary Albert S. Jones urged the establishment of rifle clubs at all major colleges, universities and military academies. By 1906, NRA's youth program was in full swing with more than 200 boys competing in matches at Sea Girt that summer. Today, youth programs are still a cornerstone of the NRA, with more than one million youth participating in NRA shooting sports events and affiliated programs with groups such as 4-H, the Boy Scouts of America, the American Legion, U.S. Jaycees and others.

Due to the overwhelming growth of NRA's shooting programs, a new range was needed. Gen. Ammon B. Crichfield, Adjutant General of Ohio, had begun construction of a new shooting facility on the shores of Lake Erie, 45 miles east of Toledo, Ohio. Camp Perry became the home of the annual National Matches, which have been the benchmark for excellence in marksmanship ever since. With thousands of people competing annually in pistol, smallbore and highpower events, the National Matches are one of the biggest sporting events held in the country today.

Keep reading about the history of the NRA.

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