I don’t know if we’re all just born with an inherent knowledge of the clout Smith & Wesson holds amongst the famous and infamous gunslingers of history, but we know… we just know.
We know S&W makes awesome handguns. We’ve seen them proudly displayed in westerns and even modern crime shows.
Many of us can testify firsthand to the quality and craftsmanship of a classic M&P. In our minds, the S&W really stands for “steadfast” and “won’t let you down.”
But, what many of us don’t know, is how this household name in firearms manufacturers got their start. How did a couple of average Joe’s become some of the best-known names in guns? Let’s take a look at their fascinating history…
Starting off with a Bang
Maybe this title is a little misleading. Well, actually a lot misleading, because, in truth, founders Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson failed gloriously at their first attempted venture, Smith and Wesson Company.
It was 1852, and the two met while working at the National Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. They came up with the idea to develop a fully self-contained cartridge called the “Volcanic Cartridge.”
They set up shop in Norwich, Connecticut, and developed and patented their new cartridge.
After falling on some hard times, the two were forced to sell their company and its assets to a small-time clothing manufacturer. You may have heard the name, though not for shirts.
Oliver Winchester (yes, thatWinchester) bought out the Smith and Wesson Company and took over production of the Volcanic rifle project. The new company became known as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Most businessmen would have lost heart, but Smith and Wesson knew they had an extraordinary idea. They wouldn’t give up.
Forged by Fire
In 1856, after their first failed attempt, Smith and Wesson came back with a better, stronger business model and their innovative ideas for practical firearms. They established Smith & Wesson Revolver Company.
Their first manufactured revolver, the Model 1, marked the end of Civil War-era muzzle-loading percussion firearms. It used their patented self-contained cartridge chambered in .22 as a rimfire revolver.
While the Model 1 turned heads with its quick and precise shots, Smith & Wesson didn’t become a household name until the introduction of the Model 3 American Revolver in 1870.
It was the first large-caliber centerfire cartridge revolver in America and skyrocketed the company to fame, even becoming a favorite of the legendary gunslinger, Wyatt Earp.
Reaching for the Stars
After achieving such fame with the Model 3, S&W worked even harder to design and produce the most innovative revolvers ever seen.
The 1880s brought the unveiling of the .38 Double-Action Revolver to fill the demand for self-cocking handguns, and, later, the .38 Safety-Hammerless Revolver.
Teaming up with his son, Joseph, Wesson unleashed this new kind of concealed-hammer revolver like the world had never seen.
But even these triumphs would not be able to measure up to S&W’s most beloved model ever that came out in 1899.
It was a solid-frame revolver with a special hand-ejector system called the .38 Military & Police Revolver.
The M&P (now known as the Model 10) was met with unprecedented success, the only S&W product to be in continuous production since its creation.
To date, the Model 10 has sold over six million units and was used for years by law-enforcement officers.
A New Generation
As a new century dawned, so did the creation of automatic firearms.
In 1913, Smith & Wesson released the .35 Automatic Pistol featuring two safety devices and retailed for $16.50.
Times were changing, and the company had to adapt to a new demand. Law enforcement needed a cartridge and a weapon that would be able to penetrate bulletproof glass and armor.
So, the FBI-favorite .357 Magnum Pistol was born.
1942 brought weapons manufacturing to a crescendo as WWII raged and, at the request of the British army, Smith and Wesson developed the Victory Model M&P Revolver.
This upgraded version of the consumer classic was used by more than 800,000 Allied troops in battle.
The last half of the century saw creative solutions to firearm demands such as the Model 36 Chiefs Special Revolver, the 9mm double-action Model 39 Pistol, and the first stainless steel Model 60 SS Chiefs Special.
These reliable weapons were used profusely by law enforcement because of their groundbreaking designs and deadly precision.
After whirlwind success with its first generation of products, S&W released their newest line of pistols, the Model 439s, as the Second Generation was born.
These 3-digit serial numbered products were upgrades to already popular models, like the 39.
The Legend Lives On
In 1987, Smith & Wesson developed a new line of semi-automatic handguns, known as the Third Generation, and became the most used handguns in the world.
One example of a popular Third Gen model is the Model 4006 Pistol that is preferred by law enforcement for its comfortable grip and double-stack magazine.
The 2000s brought about three new models:
The latter was Smith & Wesson’s dive into the modern sporting rifle arena, and they certainly haven’t disappointed.
Winning the 2011 “Rifle of the Year” from SIAE, the M&P15 .22 Rifle became a crowd-pleaser for sporting-rifle shooters, while the next year saw a surge in units sold of their new M&P Shield Pistol line.
In the last 5 years, Smith and Wesson has wowed handgun users with their SW22 Victory Pistols that feature a modular design with fiber-optic rear and front sights.
Their latest product, the M&P M2.0 Pistol took the well-loved M&P design and upgraded the trigger, grip, frame and finish for the modern user.
Looking to the Future of Smith & Wesson
When I picked up my first Smith & Wesson handgun, I could feel the weight of doubt drop from my shoulders. It just felt right. It felt powerful, reliable, accurate.
The two innovators, while starting off slow, knew they had ideas that could change the world, and with a little hard work and a standard of exceptional craftsmanship, they did.
I don’t know what the legendary company will come up with next, but I can tell you this:
It will be unbelievable. It will be dependable. It will be accurate. It will be a Smith & Wesson.
Do you own an S&W firearm? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments below!