Book Review: The Whitney Wolverine

The Whitney Wolverine (aka Whitney, Lightning, or Hillson Imperial) was a very space-age looking .22 automatic pistol designed by Robert Hillberg in the 1950s. It made novel use of materials (aluminum castings) and many clever design subtleties, and was a remarkably good pistol. However, the company set up to manufacture it made some critical marketing and financial decisions, which led to only 13,371 of the pistols being made before closing down.

In this book on the Whitney (named in honor of landmark American gunmaker Eli Whitney, incidentally), Antonio Taglienti does a great job of illuminating all aspects of the pistol. From its design and conception to the prototypes and manufacturing processes to the production history and the company’s financial tribulations, this is both an informative and interesting look at a forgotten pistol. The book also includes a plethora of original Whitney advertising and a full listing of the serial numbers produced over the pistol’s lifespan.

Unlike the Whitney pistol, the book is still in print and available from Amazon:


  1. This a great book about a really innovative and interesting pistol. One note of caution if you decide to take apart one of these hanguns: do it deep in a large cardboard box. They suddenly come apart in an explosion of springs and small parts!

    • If I remember correctly, Hillberg has passed away, Charlie Petty interviewed him for his High Standard book, and I believe part of this was republished in “American Handgunner.” There was an another article on Hillberg in one of the Gun Digest annuals a few years back.

  2. Olympic Arms is making new Wolverines, with a polymer frame and vent rib rather than aluminum.

    Reviews say that apart from the material change they’re faithful to the original, though not identical.

    I do kind of lust after one.

  3. LOVE the Wolverine, One of the most ergonomically perfect hand guns I’ve ever held. (Never fired one, just fondled a few at gun shows) Love the fact that the “Zebra” toy pistol from the 70’s was based on the Wolverine. I’ve seen the Olympic arms model. Meh. I don’t understand why they did some of the things they did to it cosmetically, and by many accounts, it’s not terribly reliable.

    • Ah, the Zebra toy. A few years ago I ran into a guy who was a devotee of the Whitneys and explained why it and the Remington 51 were the greatest handguns ever. I wish I remembered who the hell it was so I could introduce him to Ian! He was right, though, pretty good orphan guns.

      The Remington and the Whitney were both a bit like the Hughes 500 helicopter: they were little jewels, designed without a view to production cost, and that made them impossible to sell profitably at a market price (the Army got OH-6 helicopters for about 40¢ on the dollar — so yeah, someone did benefit from Howard’s mental illness, the taxpayers).

  4. “Meant to say, I played with the Zebra which shot yellow balls and other “war toys” when I was a kid, but it never influenced me.=””>

    I still have my Zebra pistol. Just wish I had a box or two of the little yellow balls.

    For those to young to remember (or not born yet) The Zebra pistol was the late 60’s-early 70’s version of an airsoft pistol but way cooler 😉

  5. Robert Hillberg was one of the most fertile firearm designers of the U.S.A., and
    his inventions included, First Gas Operated Shotgun for High Standart, Liberator
    Shotgun for Winchester, Revolver for Browning Arms Company, Wolverine, Gas Operated
    Pistol for Wildey, Multi Barreled Handgun for COP. Passed away in 2012.

    Apart from the receiver being a simple shell carrying all other pistol parts therein,
    Wolverine had no other innovation but a futuristic shape for the time it manufactured.
    But its construction for receiver approach was very convenient to use in all time
    since the same can be manufactured of plastics nowadays.

  6. I’ve just acquired my 2nd one and last thursday I went out and shot it about 100 time’s. Every malfunction you could have with an automatic pistol occured but after a while it sorted itself out. It is one of the fun and accurate .22 pistol’s I have ever shot and more accurate than me. So upon returning home I decided to strip it apart completely. I rinse all thew part’s in Acetone. The grungiest were the spring’s, they were like cosmolened plus. Before I take it out and shoot it again I’m going to lube it carefully with some RemLube as recommended by a dealer. Oh and yes you want to strip it in a small brightly lit room. The trigger return spring and the magazine release and trigger system spring can go ballistic on you.

  7. i just got my first whitney wolverine but need some info on the gun it has whitney on left side but no wolverine on right side whitney firearms inc new haven conn usa is manufator stamped on right side and is made from aluminum not polymer the serial is 26168 and i can’t find it any where that sounds
    right my thought is the gun was made after they give up wolverine on right side because of law suit but still made by , whitney firarms inc , new haven conn usa on right side and is made from aluminum can anyone help me pleaseeeeee or a phone number to call i thank you

  8. E-mail me.I have2 and have the book, which has all the info you could possibly need. Its a very good book and is objective so you’ll read the good and the bad. When it works it works very well. But both of mine have problems once in while.

  9. I have the book and 2 original Whitney’s the only thing I could see that was in error was they didn’t get production dates quite right on the silver model.

  10. The one thing which should be noted about the original Whitney’s use only the high power .22 bullets. Whitney’s do not do well with cheap low power bullets.

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