Creative Destruction: Peter Thum's Fonderie 47

A new venture aims to foster stability in war-torn regions through an act of creative destruction: acquiring AK-47s and transforming them into rare jewelry, watches and accessories.

What's the Big Idea?


After the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, a new arms race was joined with the Soviet Union. This arms race led to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It also led to the development of the first lightweight automatic rifle, the AK-47. This breakthrough weapon, Автомат Калашникова (Automatic Kalashnikov), named after its inventor, Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, gave the Soviets and their allies the upper hand in many battle situations throughout the Cold War. For instance, while this is still a hotly debated subject, many argue the US-issued M-16 proved frustratingly unreliable in Vietnam, in comparison to the Kalashnikov.

The AK-47, a.k.a, "Everyman's Gun"

In his book The Gun (recently released in paperback), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist C.J. Chivers examines in fascinating detail the mass production, distribution, and global spread of the AK-47. Chivers recounts how this killing machine became the favored weapon of totalitarian regimes from the Middle East to Africa. At the time of the Iraq War, Chivers writes:

After almost six decades, the long travels of the Kalashnikov assault rifle had achieved the inevitable state: full saturation. Decades earlier the first AK-47s had left Soviet hands, and in the years since they had become the hand weapon of choice for strongmen, criminals, terrorists, and messianic guerrilla leaders...What does saturation mean? It would be naive to think that war would stop without these weapons. It wouldn't. It would be just as naive to think that many of the consequences of war as it has been waged in recent decades might not be lessened if these rifles were in fewer hands, and not so available for future conflicts. For how long will battlefields be so? The answer is straightforward -- as long as the rifles exist in the outsized numbers the Cold War left behind.

Enter Peter Thum. In a previous post, Big Think documented this social entrepreneur's launch of Ethos Water, a bottled water company that he used as a "funding and communications platform" that addressed the world water crisis. Thum's latest venture, Fonderie 47, launches today. Fonderie 47 acquires and destroys AK-47s in Africa, then brings some of the metal back home where it is transformed into rare jewelry, watches and accessories. The sale of each piece of their jewelry funds the destruction of more weapons. As Thum says, his company is out to fund "the rapid destruction of these weapons."

Watch the video here:

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