The partnership of Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson marked the beginning of a legacy that has revolutionized the arms industry into what we know today. Smith & Wesson has remained at the forefront of the firearm industry since the mid 19th century designing and manufacturing integral advancements to various models of hand guns and rifles.
Many moments throughout history served to fortify and shape S&W into the legacy/brand we know and love today. From the supply and demand of wartime to the personal preferences of law enforcement and civilians needing personal protection, S&W worked tirelessly to improve upon their designs and forge the way toward a higher standard of firearm all while accomplishing many firsts along the way.
The Model 1
Originally titled the Seven Shooter, the Model 1 was manufactured between 1857 to 1860 and was the first practical cartridge revolver, marking the end of single-shot percussion firearms. The revolver was a tip-up model that allowed the barrel to tip up and back, allowing the cartridge to be removed and loaded with Wesson’s patented .22 rim fire cartridges. The rim fire cartridges were also a first in the arms industry as they were small enough to be carried around in a pocket and fully waterproof. Thanks to the Model 1 and it’s self-contained rim fire cartridge, S&W was inevitably coined the thoroughbred of the handgun world.
Wartime and Historical Events
It was the commencement of the Civil War that encouraged the development of a revolver with a faster reloading time since the tip up models had proven themselves unwieldy and time consuming. As a result, by 1870 the The Model 3, a .44 caliber revolver, was born. The Model 3 was a vital development for the business because of the massive national and international contracts, which aided in funding S&W through the late economic depressions of the 70’s.
After the Civil War, the American West was the next most influential historical event to aid in the expansion of S&W firearms as it provided a lucrative market serving both the United States Calvary and the rush of new settlers often in conflict with Native Americans. The Model 3 proved successful and the large-framed revolver continued to be in high demand.
At the start of WWII S&W dedicated their production efforts to military arms only, producing millions of the Victory Model, the .38 Military and Police Revolver containing the cartridge of the popular .38 S&W Special. Known today as the Model 10, this revolver has served nearly every military and police organization in the world and by 1960 nearly 85 percent of law enforcement officials around the world carried the .38 M&P.
Law Enforcement and Civilian Use
In the 1930’s law officials began to request a higher powered handgun that could keep up with criminals who were better armed now than ever before. This request was the spark that launched the firearm industry into the Magnum era after Wesson developed a .357 Magnum round in response. After perfecting the .357 for law enforcement, the infamous .44 Magnum was revealed in 55′ and, thanks to the film “Dirty Harry,” became one of the most well known revolvers ever produced.
The rapid growth of the 19th century led to better armed criminals and increased crime rates. S&W had already taken over the law enforcement market and turned it’s efforts to civilian use for personal protection. Their early models, like the .38 Double Action, was small and safe enough to conceal and increased the demand from civilians for various new models of the caliber. However, personal protection was not the only growing market for the company during the 19th Century as the interest in sport shooting began to increase.
The .38 M&P had been a popular choice among sport shooters after WWII, but eventually requests were made and a .22 caliber target pistol was manufactured in the late 1940’s. After years and years of testing, adjusting and improving upon their high-grade target pistol, S&W finally released to the public the most impressive and accurate shooting pistol yet seen to date, the Model 52.
The Legacy Continues
In January 1880, Scientific American named S&W “one of the oldest, most perfect, and widely known [revolver makers] in the country.” Over a century later this title still stands. Smith & Wesson has led the revolution of firearms to what we love and shoot today. It wasn’t until early 2000 that the company refocused it’s marketing on major outfitters and big box retailers, attempting to cater to the growing community of Americans that love and uphold their right to carry a firearm. The historic legacy of the partnership between two men created a brand that has been household name since the birth of this nation and continues to lead the industry in many new and exciting ways.