U.S. Firearms Manufacturer

Third Oldest and Third Most Productive

He's got an old Fender strat,
Plays behind his back,
While he sings out Louie Louie.
He's a backseat mauler,
A barroom brawler.
I think he's gonna blacken your eye.
If that don't teach you a lesson,
Might show you his Smith & Wesson
Don't let me say it again!

--Lou Gramm, Mick Jones


The Springfield Armory established in 1777 was actually the oldest in this genre.1 Founded by Eliphalet Remington in Ilion, New York, 1816, E. Remington and Sons is the oldest firearm company still continuing in the United States. And another early inventor, Samuel Colt, started his Paterson, New Jersey plant in 1836. Benjamin Tyler Henry of the Henry Repeating Rifle company began his patents in 1860, and William Henry Baker started the Ithaca Gun Company in 1883. These last two rifle assembly plants were not owned by outside interests as are Remington and at one time, Smith & Wesson. Remington was one of many companies such as Bushmaster and Marlin that were bought by New York firm, Cerberus, through the Freedom Group. In the U.S. today, there are twenty manufacturers of either handguns, rifles, shotguns or all. Here, you will learn about what happened with another with a long tradition, Smith & Wesson.

Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson

Both of these men, whose names live on -- engraved or stamped on blue or stainless steel, were from Massachusetts: Horace Smith, was born in 1808 in Cheshire, and Daniel Baird Wesson, came into the world in Worcester, 1825: They both had backgrounds in weaponry. When Smith was four they moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. Following his father's footsteps years later, Horace Smith gained valuable experience working first as an apprentice, then becoming a journeyman at the Springfield Armory. Daniel Wesson's experience came from helping his brother, Edwin, at his Grafton, Massachusetts gun shop, who was already a well-established gunsmith.

Putting the Smith in Gunsmith

Horace Smith eventually fabricated some guns for other manufacturers and then continued in his own shop. While at Cranston and Smith in Norwich, he invented an exploding round for whaling, and he improved musket designs for the Springfield Armory. Along with creating manufacturing machinery, he developed a compromised invention, trying to compete with Colt, of a repeating pistol with three separate magazines, ball, primer or powder.

It's A Family Affair

Daniel Wesson married a respected New England lady, Cynthia M. Hawes (some sources erroneously say Harris) in 1847. It would not be shown until later that Wesson being only a "gunsmith," as the father-in-law grumbled, would be a wise profitable career move. That year though his wife was expecting a child, brother Edwin died, leaving behind his business with a debt of 15 grand, putting Daniel in a precarious situation. He worked a bit for barrel makers Allen, Brown, and Luther. He would be father to daughter Sarah Jeanette in 1848, and sons Walter Herbert, 1850, Frank Luther, 1852? (killed in train wreck, 1887), and Joseph Hayes, 1859. Frank's son Harold would carry on in the business like his uncles and father.

Business Erupts

It was in Norwich, Connecticut in 1852, that Smith and Wesson first began their partnership, although they actually ran across each other two years previously in Vermont at the Robbins and Lawrence company in Windsor. Supposedly they discussed the idea of making the ideal "repeater" firearm.

They developed in their debut year a power-packed lever-action front-loading repeating pistol patented in February of 1854 that erupted on firing, and was therefore dubbed by Scientific American, the "Volcanic". The cartridge was an improved design enlarging the cartridge originated by Frenchman Louis Nicolas Flobert in 1845, derived by adding the lead bullet to the cap. (We can thank Flobert for rimfire ammunition, like the ubiquitous .22 cal.) Their hollow lead based bullets were called "rocket balls."

Sales unfortunately sputtered, and they were forced to get investors for the fledgling company and that main financing came from an upcoming manufacturer, who produced and sold shirts, Oliver Fisher Winchester (1810-1880). Smith took an early retirement, and Wesson went on to remain superintendent for the relocated and renamed Volcanic Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, Connecticut.

Bleeding Red Again

Not too long after that, after more red ink, the company became totally Winchester's. Eventually Winchester brought Benjamin Henry on board as plant superintendent, (who left being a foreman at Robbins and Lawrence), and developed the famous lever-action rifle. (Henry had come up with a .44 rimfire cartridge rifle.) Plant manager Wesson continued tinkering with designing a better self-contained cartridge for pistol revolvers, and he started his prototype in .22 caliber. It helped Wesson's efforts when Colt's patent on the hammer revolving the cylinder had ran out in 1856. They were reorganized as the New Haven Arms Company, and by 1866 it became the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

It Takes Two

At Colt, employee Rollin White had the idea of a bored hole in the cylinder back for the hammer to fire the cartridge, instead of ball and powder loaded from the front, and then a punch hole for the hammer hitting the percussion cap. When Colt was not interested, he patented it himself, getting the attention of Wesson, securing a deal to pay a quarter's royalty on each gun sold using his idea. Wesson also brought his old partner, Smith back into the picture by forming the new Smith & Wesson Company in 1856, even though it has been said he asked Smith to be in it after the fact, nevertheless their corporate pairing was official by 1857. They ensured there would be no legal problems on their proprietary endeavors, so they had patents registered. In a few years they did have some days in court over Rollin's patent, which ran out in 1870 anyway.

Twenty Two And Don't Mind Dyin'

After 1858, with the new factory in Springfield, Mass., they mass produced their .22 short caliber Model 1, and this 7 shooter proved a hit, especially in the expanding Wild West, and it became known as a "hideaway pistol". The successful self-contained cartridge for this revolver, still used today, is actually the breakthrough invention to be remembered more than even the revolver. Production reached 11000, and it necessitated moving to a bigger facility near the Springfield Armory in strange homecoming kind of way, eventually they had 600 workers. The first models had a bayonet latch on the bottom of the frame. Just before the Civil War started they did some improvements in design replacing brass with steel that were more economical to produce. Altogether there were three issues of the Model One, the last replacing an octagon barrel with a round one. It was discontinued in 1883.

War Can Be Good for Business

In 1861 the new Model 2 in .32 caliber was unveiled to the world, and it was a winning formula up until 1874. It became known as the Army Model 2, after a time when not just Northern soldiers became anxious about a Southern invasion, but civilians in their homes. It was a handy weapon, carried on a belt, with waterproof cartridges. They reached a ceiling limit on production because of the demand in 1862; Kentucky that year had bought 2600 of them. It became a very popular handgun in the West, used by such notorious figures as Wild Bill Hickok2 and General George Armstrong Custer. The company found a niche at this time for a pocket pistol, thus they had the model 1 ½, but were too busy to make it themselves so they subcontracted out with Savage and King of Middletown, Connecticut.

By 1865 the two became the most wealthy families in Springfield, and they turned out to be philanthropic as well: Daniel eventually founded two hospitals, Horace left secondary educational scholarship grants.

Guns' Booms Turn to Bust

Like all good or bad things, having to come to an end, so did the wartime bonanza. By 1867 millions of men still had their military weapons (the U.S. was the most armed at this time), and therefore Smith & Wesson's sales dropped to 15 guns a month. Providentially there was a whole world of conflicts out there, and before anyone even considered free trade, they displayed their wares at the Napoleon III hosted second Paris International Exposition of 1867 (the first was in 1855). Because Smith & featured many intricately decorated models, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia was impressed and eventually the Russians ordered 200 thousand, This venue allowed them to add other European and Asian customers to their client base.

Heart Breaker With Your Forty Four

Jesse James was a lad that killed many a man,
He robbed the Danville train.
But that dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.


Poor Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life,
Three children, they were brave,
But the dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard
Has laid poor Jesse in his grave.

It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward,
I wonder how he did feel,
For he ate of Jesse's bread, and he slept in Jesse's bed,
Then he laid poor Jesse in his grave.

Jesse was a man, a friend to the poor,
He never would see a man suffer pain;
And with his brother Frank, he robbed the Chicago bank,
And stopped the Glendale train.

It was Saturday night, Jesse was at home,
Talking with his family brave.
Robert Ford3 came along like a thief in the night
And laid poor Jesse in his grave.
--Billy Gashade

1869, they purchased William C.Dodge's patent that facilitated emptying spent shells. The plan of the new Model 3 took off after a deal with Remington to convert percussion cap revolvers with .44 rimfire cartridges; but since everybody now in 1870 could use White's idea, Smith & Wesson modified the Model 3 to be a sturdier constructed break-top, with a star shape plate to auto-eject spent casings. Colt did not have this feature. This format, now in double action (it re-cocked to fire) would be good for selling a million and three quarters of them through the turn of that century, though initially only 8,000 went out between 1870 and 1872. Some of the more famous or infamous customers of the Model 3 revolvers were Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Frank and Jesse James, Robert Ford, Virgil Earp, and Theodore Roosevelt. They normally held six shots, whereas the "Baby" Russian model provided 5 cylinders.

A Smithless Smith & Wesson

Even though there was no social security, and he did not need it, Horace Smith at 65 in 1873 retired from the business, selling his shares to Daniel Wesson, but remained a business consultant. Daniel continued on until his death in 1906. Afterwards it was run by a Trustee agreement until Walter, the first son, was elected president of the company in 1912. They alternated after that due to health problems; the youngest son, Joseph, served from 1915 until 1921. A big change came, however, when President Woodrow Wilson, now concerned with arming the U.S. for entering the conflagration of WWI, had the Springfield Armory manage the company until Armistice in 1919.

A Perfect 10

The most prolific revolver the company would ever sell came out in 1899. The new Military and Police double action hand ejector revolver chambered for their new .38 special cartridge, and it had a square butt frame (K-frame) and 4 inch barrel standard, with a reasonable weight of 30.5 ounces. Eventually called the Model 10, and after a few tweaks in 1902, it has been basically the same format up to the present. They have sold over six million units, though the earlier ones are better made than recent ones. They made special editions for the British and sold many to other nations.

Over Here, Over There

President Woodrow Wilson established the National War Labor Board on April 8, 1918, and they exerted pseudo supreme court dictatorial war powers over any labor disputes during the Great War. After Smith & Wesson turned down accepting the WLB's authority, the Board forcefully took over operations. The MLB also threatened potentially striking workers, they would make them trade coveralls for uniforms.

The First World War, of course, provided opportunities for their helpful participation. One need was to have revolvers for the military that could use the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (1911) round, and they complied with the Model 17. Though .38's were okay under most circumstances, the military learned (in the Philippines) they did not stop folks fast enough before they could shoot back.

In 1920 Joseph died leaving Harold in charge, who did what he could, but ultimately made poor business decisions that did not help the bottom line.

Don't Bring Me Down

Like everyone in the whole world, the 1929 Stock Market crash and the Great Depression seriously affected Smith & Wesson, too. They cut back on staff, but kept more employed by diversifying their products to include handcuffs, tools, appliances and more.

Even though it was the Depression, the company was able to answer a need by law enforcement agencies for a relatively lightweight, but more powerful gun. In 1935 the company working with Winchester and came up with the .357 magnum. Muzzle power went from the 300 foot pounds of energy range to over 500fpe. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, was presented the first Model 27 .357 Magnum revolver off the line, and subsequently became his agents' regulation sidearm. It also had the added benefit of also firing the .38 special, for more economical practice sessions. Many other police entities ordered this weapon, and it is still in production today, sometimes later on with additional options; even producing a hammer-less model.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

However as the new decade of the 40s began Harold's ideas, even adding shotguns to the inventory, did not stem the flow towards bankruptcy, so managing fell to Carl R. Hellstrom, who worked his way up from plant superintendent to engineering consultant, who over the next decades bailed them out.

World War II saw a modest increase in sales, selling They provided guns with a dull black finish for wartime use instead of the dark blue. The .38 specials made between 1942 and 1944 had a V prefixing the serial number, thus the moniker Victory models. They sold the British revolvers that had their .38 caliber variants, like the .38/200. After the war there w

The last to run the business in the Wesson family, grandson Harold, died in 1946. Though the family still had interests in it.

Automatic Choices

In 1949 Smith & Wesson began to develop their 9mm double action semi-automatic pistol for the U.S. Army M1911A1 replacement. With a anodized aluminum frame and had a similar 1911 magazine release located at the rear of the trigger guard it was released in 1955. A limited steel-frame edition later was the prototype for the Model 52. And through the years with some various changes is still available, and they have sold others similar with other calibers and finishes.

Make My Day

Crook: (during a diner robbery) What's you doing, you pighead sucka?
Harry Callahan: Every day for the past ten years, Loretta there's been giving me a large black coffee, today she gives me a large black coffee only it has sugar in it, a lotta sugar. I just came back to complain. Now, you boys put those guns down.

Crook: Say what?

Harry Callahan: Well, we're not just gonna let you walk out of here.

Crook: Who'se we sucka?

Harry Callahan: (slowly drawing his .44 Magnum) Smith and Wesson... and me.
--Dirty Harry

Okay, now we get to what many have been waiting for, the "world's most powerful handgun" that "can blow your head clean off" that Clint Eastwood made famous in 1971's Dirty Harry and 1973's Magnum Force: the Model 29 .44 magnum, and was introduced in 1956. Now this hand cannon was good for hunting big game throwing out a whopping 1000fpe. The piece used in the movie was later given to writer John Mileus. Many would-be .44 magnum enthusiasms turned sour after trying to fire the mule-kick beast, and re-sold them shortly thereafter.

In Name Only

First the good news in 1965, they released the first stainless steel revolver, the Model 60, the bad, no Wesson's had, with the sale of the company any more official dealings with their families' heritage. It had been sold to the Bangor Punta Alegre Sugar Corporation, and then Bangor Punta was sold in 1984, to Lear Siegler Corporation; two years later that owner, which only was interested in the automotive and aerospace side, sold it in 1997. Smith & Wesson was bought for $112.5 million by a United Kingdom company, F.H. Tomkins. Through these years, especially in the 80s quality control and over-diversification damaged S&W's reputation.

I Feel Your Pain

The President Clinton administration of the 90s was torn between those two worlds of pro and anti gun lobbies, so there was an agreement partly dreamed up by Andrew Cuomo to have weapon manufacturers agree to some new (restrictive) regulations, and then get positive public relations in return. It limited type and amounts of sales; They were the only significant weapons maker that capitulated, and it meant they now had to answer to a five-member oversight commission.

Not discerning the negative reaction of a powerful group like the National Rifle Association, who would call for a (successful) boycott, shocked, they watched profits plummet 40 percent after the company had naively signed it. They thought at the time the only way stay in the weapons manufacturing business was by going along with the government plan, which did deliberately provoke that concern. One Business Insider article adeptly headlined the story, "How Gun Maker Smith & Wesson Almost Went Out Of Business When It Accepted Gun Control"

Arizona Phoenix

President Bob Scott with an American company, Saf-T-Hammer Corporation based out of Arizona, located in, as some might say, the New Wild West, saw an opportunity in 2001. Scott had left S&W in 1999, after butting heads with Tomkins' overseers, and now with Saf-T-Hammer already making gun safety hardware such as gun locks, he could take advantage of their ability to bring Smith & Wesson up to the new Federal standards: he was ready to deal. He bought it for 45 million dollars, 30 of which was included debt. They were incorporated in 2002 as the Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation with Scott as president.

Back in the Holster Again

They brought some new products, in 2003 they debuted their .500 S&W Magnum cartridge for the new X Frame revolver, and in January of 2006, they threw their hat into the assault rifle and Colt AR-15 style ring with the M&P 15 rifle.

They had a threefold boost in profits in 2012, the next year they pulled sales from California rather than comply with required micro-stamping.

Does a Bear Shoot in the Woods?

They have birthed in 2014 a new super powerful five shot revolver, called the Performance Center Model .460, also nicknamed the Backpack Cannon. The 3 inch barrel, mounts high-visibility sights and the synthetic stock is equipped with a shock absorber on the back of it. One will need that if one is not to be hurt more by the recoil than the supposed wild bear you might need to kill. The 12 hundred plus dollar price tag might hurt, too! It will also chamber the .454 Casull and the .45 Long Colt for ammunition variety.



1 Springfield, Massachusetts and Harper's Ferry, Virginia, were locations in 1795 selected for the new United States' armories and manufacturing facilities by General George Washington; the idea was for them to be far enough away to avoid British attack. Plato's wisdom became true when this plant used the state of the art machine-aided techniques not having the same manpower as the Brits.

Human Events says of the the place that was closed in 1968, "The Armory is now a National Historic Site with a museum that warms the hearts of gun enthusiasts and makes hippies cry." (An untrue stereotype in my opinion).

2 The Model 2 that Hickok wore in Deadwood that fateful evening of 1872 was carried in vain, as he was shot dead playing poker holding the "Dead Man's Hand" of Aces and Eights.

3 There is a fascinating story that made the news in 1993 about a .44-caliber revolver, Serial No. 3766, that came up for auction by an unknown American reseller via Wallis & Wallis of Lewes, Sussex, U.K., whose current ownership is challenged by Henry A. Lingenfelder, once owned by Robert Newton Ford that killed Jesse James, a.k.a. J.D Howard or Thomas Howard.

Ford gave it to Henry H. Craig, the sympathetic Marshall that tended to him in jail after the Missouri Governor Thomas.T.Crittenden (who had made a deal before the assassination) pardoned him. Ford said at the inquest, "I saw that all was done for with Jesse when I saw that heavy .44 Smith and Wesson slug hit him in the head." Charlie Ford, who helped in the plot, testified, "Bob had a Smith and Wesson revolver and it was easier for him to get it out of his pocket, so he got in the first shot."

It was 1904 in Baltimore where Mr. Gary bought it from Craig's son, Corydon F. Craig, and later sent to Smith & Wesson to have engraved upon it: "Bob Ford killed Jesse James with this revolver at St. Joseph, Mo. 1882." This was sold to Henry G. Lingenfelder, father of the complainant, who in 1967 lent it to Carl W. Breihan, who helped place it in the new Jesse James museum in Sullivan, MO. (It is in Kearny, present day). In 1968, thieves took advantage of a powerful storm, and perhaps with inside help, stole this famous gun, Hickok's watch, along with other collectibles. After clearing the monetary and legal hurdles with an insurance company and with Lingenfelder, it sold for $170,000.

Sources came from multiple sites, even beyond that of the obvious www.smith-wesson.com.

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