Smith & Wesson (S&W) is a manufacturer of firearms in the United States. The corporate headquarters are based in Springfield, Massachusetts. Founded in 1852, Smith & Wesson’s pistols and revolvers have become standard issue to police and armed forces throughout the world, in addition to their popularity among sport shooters.
Apart from firearms, Smith & Wesson has been known for the many types of ammunition it has introduced over the years, and many cartridges bear the company’s name.
Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson founded the Smith & Wesson Company in Norwich, Connecticut in 1852 to develop the Volcanic rifle. Smith developed a new Volcanic Cartridge, which he patented in 1854. The Smith & Wesson Company was renamed Volcanic Repeating Arms in 1855, and was purchased by Oliver Winchester. Smith left the company and returned to his native Springfield, Massachusetts, Wesson stayed on as plant manager with Volcanic Repeating Arms.
As Samuel Colt’s patent on the revolver was set to expire in 1856, Wesson began developing a prototype for a cartridge revolver. His research pointed out that a former Colt employee named Rollin White held the patent for a “Bored-through” cylinder, a component he would need for his invention. Wesson reconnected with Smith and the two partners approached White to manufacture a newly designed revolver-and-cartridge combination.
Rather than make White a partner in their company, Smith and Wesson paid him a royalty of $0.25 on every revolver that they made. It would become White’s responsibility to defend his patent in any court cases which eventually led to his financial ruin, but was very advantageous for the new Smith & Wesson Company.
The Civil War
Smith & Wesson’s revolvers came into popular demand with the outbreak of the American Civil War as soldiers from all ranks on both sides of the conflict made private purchases of the revolvers for self-defense.
The orders for the Smith & Wesson Model 1 revolver outpaced the factory’s production capabilities. In 1860 demand was so great that Smith & Wesson expanded into a new facility and began experimenting with a new cartridge design more suitable than the .22 Short that it had been using.
At the same time, the company’s design was being infringed upon by other manufacturers which led to numerous lawsuits filed by Rollin White. In many of these instances part of the restitution came in the form of the offender being forced to stamp “Manufactured for Smith & Wesson” on the revolvers in question
White’s vigorous defense of his patent caused a problem for armsmakers in the United States at the time as they could not manufacture cartridge revolvers. At the end of the war the US Government charged White with causing the retardation of arms development in America.