Smith & Wesson is a U.S.-based manufacturer of firearms and BB guns. Founded in 1852 by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson, it has grown to a multi-million dollar company with over 1,000 employees. Below, we take a look at important dates and turning points in Smith & Wesson’s history.
Early Smith & Wesson History
Smith & Wesson founded their company in 1852 in Norwich, Connecticut. Their first project was the Volcanic rifle, and Smith later patented a Volcanic cartridge in 1854. Shortly after, in 1855, the company renamed to Volcanic Repeating Arms around the same time shirt manufacturer Oliver Winchester purchased it. At that time, Wesson stayed with the company while Smith left. Oliver used the lever-action design in Smith & Wesson’s first guns in his company, which later became the famous Winchester Repeating Arms Co.
With Samuel Colt’s patent on the revolver about to expire in 1856, Wesson began research on a cartridge revolver. He partnered back up with Smith, and the two approached “bored-through” cartridge patent holder, Rollin White, to develop a revolver-cartridge combination. They paid White a royalty for each revolver made, which led to much of their success in the early stages of their second partnership.
Popularity Rose in the Civil War
During the Civil War, the demand for Smith & Wesson’s revolver rose as many people purchased it for self-defense. This high demand helped the company expand in 1860.
At the end of the Civil War, demand for the revolver declined, so the pair focused their attention on developing arms for the American frontier. They released a large frame revolver in heavier calibers in 1870. The United States Cavalry purchased 1,000 units, making them — along with the Russian Imperial Government — one of the company’s most important customers.
Not long after, in 1899, they released a popular revolver called the Model 10. With fixed sights, it also featured a cylinder chambered for six .38 Long Colt caliber rounds. At this time, the U.S. military ordered 3,000 units of this model. However, it wasn’t ideal for military use, so the company redesigned it to increase the bullet weight. This gave birth to the famous round, the .38 Special.
Aside from playing a role in World War I and II, the Smith & Wesson brand also became a huge asset off the battlefield — in the arms of law enforcement. The Model 10 became increasingly popular with police departments during the 20th century.
When the first bulletproof vests entered the scene, after World War I, organized crime was quick to don the protective garments, eager to gain the upper hand over police. The Model 10 was not powerful enough to pierce through the new vests. Not wasting any time, Smith & Wesson began improving on their heat-treating process and testing with stronger forms of steel. In 1935, they released the first magnum revolver: the Model 19. With rounds traveling out of the barrel at 1600 fps, this revolver gave law enforcement a strong leg up — as the bulletproof vests of the time could only withstand rounds traveling up to about 1000 fps. The powerful Model 19 quickly gained popularity outside of police use and was picked up by many for military, hunting, and self-defense purposes.
In 2000, the company entered into an agreement with U.S. President Bill Clinton. Under this agreement, they would make changes to their firearm design and distribution in exchange for a “preferred buying program.” This meant authorized dealers couldn’t sell to prohibited persons, and couldn’t allow children under 18 without an adult to access their shops — leading tens of thousands of firearm consumers to boycott the company.
Shortly after, in 2001, the company was acquired by Saf-T-Hammer Corporation for a mere $15 million, although Saf-T-Hammer did assume $30 million in debt. The firearms locks and safety products manufacturer intended to put its products into Smith & Wesson firearms, to support compliance with the 2000 agreement with the president.
In 2005, a new line of Smith & Wesson Military & Police (M&P) firearms emerged, featuring a semi-automatic pistol with improved ergonomics designed specifically for use by law enforcement. The pistol is polymer-framed, with interchangeable palm swell grips to best fit the user, and a trigger guard fitted for use with gloves. The main feature that set the M&P apart from other popular pistols of the time was its trigger system; the striker-fired model means the weapon will only fire once the trigger is fully depressed — significantly reducing the risk of misfire, even if the weapon is dropped. With over ten variants produced today, and numerous accessories, the M&P line continues to see demand among law enforcement agencies.
In more recent news, Smith & Wesson Holding paid $130.5 million for Battenfeld Technologies, a distributor of hunting and shooting accessories. Through this acquisition, they intend to merge all Thompson Center Arms, M&P, and Smith & Wesson accessories.
Like any company, Smith & Wesson has faced its share of successes and challenges throughout the years. One can only hope that we will continue to see great things from history-rich Smith & Wesson in the years to come.