Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson came from old New England families. Horace learned the firearms trade while working at the National Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Daniel’s experience came from apprenticing with his brother Edwin Wesson, the leading maker of target rifles and pistols in the 1840s.
The two men formed their first partnership in 1852 in Norwich, Connecticut, with the aim of marketing a lever action repeating pistol that could use a fully self-contained cartridge. This first pistol venture was not a financial success, and by 1854 the company was having financial difficulties.
Faced with their financial difficulties, they were forced to sell their company to a shirt manufacturer by the name of Oliver Winchester. In 1866, using the original lever action design created by Smith & Wesson, Winchester’s company emerged as the famous Winchester Repeating Arms Co.
In 1856 Smith & Wesson formed their second partnership to produce a small revolver designed to fire the Rimfire cartridge they patented in August of 1854. This revolver was the first successful fully self-contained cartridge revolver available in the world. Smith & Wesson secured patents for the revolver to prevent other manufacturers from producing a cartridge revolver - giving the young company a very lucrative business.
Below is the Smith & Wesson manufacturing plant in Springfield, Massachusetts, Circa 1920.
At the age of 65, Horace Smith retired from the company and sold his share of the business to D. B. Wesson, making him the sole owner of the firm. In the late 1800’s the company introduced its line of hammerless revolvers. These are still represented in today’s handgun line.
Smith & Wesson next introduced what is probably the most famous revolver in the world, the .38 Military & Police or, as it is called today, the Model 10. This revolver has been in continual production since that year and has been used by virtually every police agency and military force around the world.
Smith & Wesson’s contribution to the history of handgun and cartridge development continued through the 20th Century. The first Magnum revolver, the .357 Magnum, was introduced by the company in 1935. In 1955 the first American made double action auto-loading pistol, the Model 39, was introduced.
The Model 29 chambered in .44 magnum - the handgun made famous by Clint Eastwood in the movie "Dirty Harry" - was unveiled in 1956. In 1965 S&W began producing the Model 60 - the world’s first stainless steel revolver - launching the era of stainless steel firearms.
The accomplishments of Smith & Wesson are so numerous that it is impossible to understand the history of modern handguns without first understanding the history of Smith & Wesson. Smith & Wesson was an industry leader in 1852 when it was first founded and continues to lead the world today with innovations into the 21st century.