Tuesday, July 28, 2009

History of Smith and Wesson

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When Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson joined in a partnership in 1852, they had no idea that they were forming one of the greatest gun manufacturers of all time.

Coming from gunsmithing backgrounds, both Smith and Wesson had the idea to develop the first self-contained cartridge so that shooters would not have to reload their guns with loose powder, ball and primer. The goal was to produce the cartridge and a lever-action repeating pistol that could shoot it.

Horace Smith was born in 1808 in Cheshire, MA. He finished school at 16 and became a gunsmith's apprentice at the U.S. Armory in Springfield, MA where his father worked. He worked at the Armory for 18 years before moving on to Allen, Brown and Luther, a rifle barrel manufacturer. It is at Allen, Brown and Luther where Horace met Daniel B. Wesson.

Daniel B. Wesson was born in 1825 in Worchester, MA. His older brother was a gunsmith, so when Daniel left school at 18, he became his brother's apprentice. His older brother passed away in 1850 and Daniel took over his brother's gunsmithing business. Then, in 1852, the Smith and Wesson Arms Company was formed and the rest is history, as they say.

The duo received a patent for their lever-action repeating pistol in February of 1854. When the pistol was reviewed by the "Scientific American", it was nicknamed the Volcanic because the pistol had so much fire power behind it. Unfortunately, though, Smith and Wesson did not see a lot of success with their first gun and the Smith and Wesson Arms Company ran into financial problems. They were forced to sell their company to a shirt manufacturer, Oliver Winchester, who moved the Smith and Wesson Arms Company factory to New Haven, Connecticut and renamed it the Volcanic Arms Company. Smith retired at this point, but Daniel Wesson became superintendent of the new company. In 1866, using Smith and Wesson's patent, the Volcanic Arms Company created the Winchester Repeating Rifle and became the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

The pair met up again in 1857 to form a new partnership to develop a small revolver that would fire the self-contained cartridge they received a patent for in 1854. This time, Smith and Wesson made sure to secure their patent so that no other gun manufacturer could produce the same revolver. According to the 2008 Edition of the Standard Catalog of Firearms this S&W Model 1 was a small revolver that was chambered for their specially developed .22 Short rimfire cartridge. The barrel was 3.25" long and the revolver held 7 rounds. S&W made around 11,000 of the Model 1 revolver between 1857 and 1860. The demand for the Model 1 exceeded the limit of Smith and Wesson's workshop, so they built a new factory in Springfield, MA and increased their workforce to 600 employees. It was soon after that Smith and Wesson developed a new revolver which fired the .32 caliber cartridge.

After the Civil War, the depression hit the United States and S&W's gun sales fell dramatically. To keep themselves on top of the market, the partners looked at other countries to sell their guns to. They attended an international exhibition in Paris in 1867, which resulted in contracts with many European and South American countries, Japan and China, even Russia ordered 200,000 revolvers. These large contracts allowed Smith and Wesson to develop their next significant gun, the .44 caliber Model 3 revolver. The design of the Model 3 was completed in 1869 and a year later, they marketed the new revolver.

The Model 3 was the first of the top-break, automatic-ejection revolvers. In fact, the Model 3 came three years before Colt's Single Action Army. Between 1870 and 1872, only 8,000 Model 3 revolvers were produced. S&W's Model 3 revolver was extremely popular. Not only did the United States Cavalry order 1,000 revolvers, but it is also written that Frank and Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, Virgil Earp, Theodore Roosevelt and even Annie Oakley had Model 3 revolvers.

Horace Smith retired from the company in July of 1873 and did not get to see S&W's next historical achievement, the .38 Military and Police Model 10 revolver. The Model 10 is quite possibly the most famous revolver in the world and has been in continual production since 1899. In fact, according to S&W's website, over 6 million Model 10s have been sold to date. A S&W Model 10 that shoots the .38 S&W Special can still be bought today.

Due to these three historical achievements in gun manufacturing history, S&W had become "a world leader in handgun manufacturing." (www.smith-wesson.com) Due to the high demand from law enforcement for more firepower, the Smith and Wesson Arms Company, in collaboration with Winchester, began development on what has become the most popular high-velocity handgun cartridge in the world, the .357 Magnum.

The .357 Magnum cartridge, the first magnum cartridge ever produced, was completed in April, 1935 and reigned as the most powerful handgun cartridge produced for over 20 years. Oddly enough, according to the 2008 Edition of the Standard Catalog of Firearms, S&W "never felt that this (the .357 Magnum) would be a commercially popular venture…". Obviously this did not prove to be so. The first .357 Magnum revolver was given to FBI director at the time, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover promptly ordered a .357 Magnum for all of his agents.

Smith and Wesson's achievements of "firsts" did not end there. In 1955, S&W introduced the first American-made, double-action, semi-automatic 9mm pistol, the Model 39. One year later, in 1956, the .44 Magnum, Dirty Harry's revolver was introduced. For the next ten years, S&W was the leader of handgun manufacturing. In 1965, S&W produced the first all stainless steel revolver, the Model 60. In this same year, the company's control left Daniel B. Wesson's family and the company was purchased by Bangor Punta Alegre Sugar Corp. It was under the direction of the new ownership that S&W began expanding their product line to include long guns, ammunition, holsters, riot control equipment, night vision, police car lights and sirens, the Identi-Kit software program and other non-firearm products.

In the 1980's, S&W's quality started going downhill. Glock and Beretta started stealing semi-automatic handgun sales from S&W and the company gained a reputation of "follower" instead of "leader" as the company had once been know for. In 1997, the company again switched hands. For $112.5 million, British company, F.H. Tomkins PLC purchased S&W. Tomkins goal was to revitalize S&W's reputation and improve the quality of its products. Despite having a rough time in the 1990s, S&W has come through again as one of the world's leaders in gun manufacturing.

At the 2003 SHOT Show, S&W introduced their new .500 S&W Magnum cartridge, made for the newly built, X Frame revolver and in January of 2006, S&W entered the AR-15 market with their M&P 15 rifle. Steve Skrubis, S&W long-gun product manager said of the introduction, "The AR-15 platform is the M1911 of service/duty rifles; it's been battle-proven worldwide for over 40 years… Our goal is to provide the best, most reliable AR-15 rifle in the world as well." (Guns & Ammo online) New for 2009, the M&P 15 is available in .22 Long Rifle.

Smith & Wesson has provided shooters with quality, reliability and innovative guns for 155 years and continues to be an industry leader in firearms manufacturing.

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