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Smith & Wesson Company Records, 1920-1973
30 boxes (15 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 267

World famous handgun and handcuff-manufacturing company founded in Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1850s. Comprised of incoming sales and service correspondence with some outgoing correspondence and administrative and financial/legal subject files, including categories such as ads and advertising, American Railway Express, audits, counselors at law, debtors, insurance, legal actions, newsletters, patents and trademarks, personnel, photos, sample parts, sideline ventures, stocks and bonds awards, and Western Union Telegrams. Includes correspondence with the National Rifle Association, Small Arms Industry Advisory Committee, and the United States Revolver Association.

Terms of Access and Use:

The collection is open for research.

Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Historical Note
1854 Patent of February 14th is filed under the name of Smith and Wesson for a metallic cartridge repeating magazine pistol and rifle.
1855 On April 3rd, No. 1 seven shot Smith & Wesson .22 caliber revolver is patented; it is manufactured until 1861.
1856 Books for the partnership of Smith & Wesson are opened.
1857 In April the partners rent a shop at 5 Market Street, Springfield Mass., from William L. Wilcox. First recorded income, October 1857, is $12 for a pistol, Serial No. 2 and $1 for cartridges sold to William Amadon, who kept a drug store in Springfield opposite the National Armory.
1858 J. W. Storrs advances $500 to secure the New York agency. The shop employees commence working by the piece or as inside contractors instead of by the day. Three women join the ammunition department. Gold or silver plated frames, foliate engraving and ivory stocks are introduced.
1859 Joseph M. Hall is made bookkeeper. He takes over for D.B. Wesson who kept the books of account for the first two years.
1860s Besides having to deal with domestic competition, Smith & Wesson find their pistols being copied abroad, where they hold no patents.
1860 Smith & Wesson completes a new plant on Stockbridge Street in Springfield. According to the 1860 Massachusetts Industry Census, Smith & Wesson now employs 40 males and 17 females.
1861 Production of Model No.1, second issue, .32 rimfire starts and continues till 1868.
1862 Employees at the factory number 154, including 14 women out of 36 workers in the ammunition department.
1864 Horace Smith's son, Dexter, branches out as a partner in the firm of Smith, Hall & Farmer which takes over the ammunition department of Smith & Wesson.
1866 The factory now has 300 employees and can finish as many pistols in a day. Smith & Wesson decides to send a representative to travel in the South and embarks on a modest advertising campaign. In Canada an appreciable demand for arms has arisen because of the Fenian troubles. The first advertisement ever published by Smith & Wesson appears in the Oshawa, Ontario, Vindicator of May 18, 1866.
1867 Smith & Wesson also solicits European trade through an ornate exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1867 and advertising in its official catalog. Distant markets as far away as Yokohama & South America also begin to develop. Smith & Wesson encourages foreign trade by allowing a 5% discount on all sales for export.
1867-1874 Charles A. King serves as superintendent of the S. & W. factory.
1870s By far the largest amount of business transacted with any one customer is Smith & Wesson's series of contracts with the Russian Imperial Government.
Mid-1870s Martin y Perez of Havana buys more than 1,000 "N.M. Russian" revolvers for the use of Spanish officials. Wexel & De Gress also export the model to Mexico, and sales are made through various agents in South America. Smith & Wesson seeks to interest the Turkish, Austrian, Prussian and Persian military and governments.
1871 Walter H. Wesson, Daniel's oldest son, comes to work for the firm at the age of twenty-one as clerk and bookkeeper. He soon takes over routine correspondence.
1874 W. & C. Scott & Sons of Birmingham becomes Smith & Wesson's agents in England, later they merge with P. Webley & Sons. Smith & Wesson's agents in Paris and Argentina stamp their names on revolvers to protect against fake copies being sold as S. & W. originals. Henry M. Morehous succeeds Charles King as superintendent. The No.3 revolver aquires the title of "American" to distinguish the regular from the Russian model. Horace Smith, at the age of sixty-five, sells his interest in Smith & Wesson to his partner D. B. Wesson, who becomes sole proprietor. Smith & Wesson discontinues the manufacture of the rimfire Nos. 1 and 1-1/2 and prepares to make automatic ejector models of smaller calibers less than .44 caliber.
1877 Smith & Wesson produces decorated pistols of the American model which had been exhibited at the San Francisco Fair. An addition is built on the factory to obtain machinery space for the production of the .32 centerfire ejector.
1877/1878 About the time the factory ceases production of Nos. 1 & 1-1/2, Mexico and South America are flooded with imitations. (Some probably came from Belgium, but there were domestic copyists too.)
1878 Completion of the Russian Government contracts, in January 1878, leaves Smith & Wesson free to start a new model .44 embodying all the improvements developed in the .38 and .32 calibers.
1879 At the end of 1879 Smith & Wesson fills a special order from the Turkish Government for 5,000 pistols of the No.3 New Model in .44 rimfire. (These are the arms that comprise the "Turkish Model" as it is styled by collectors.) Production of revolving rifle starts.
1880 First double action produced by Smith & Wesson is a .38 caliber.
1881 Joe H. Wesson contracts to work for one year in the machine shop as a machinist and draftsman.
1882 Walter H. Wesson made a partner in the firm.
1887 Frank Wesson loses his life in a railroad accident, Joe Wesson becomes a partner in the firm.
1893 Horace Smith dies on January 15th, in Springfield. First single shot .22 model is introduced.
1903 Smith & Wesson manufactures a revolver for the .32 long cartridge.
1906 Daniel B. Wesson dies on August 4th, at the age of eighty-one.
1917-1918 During World War 1, the U.S. purchases 153,311 of the justly famed Model-1917 side-swing revolver.
1921 Smith & Wesson begins the manufacture of handcuffs and continues to make them up to 1940; and thereafter, they are reintroduced in 1952.
1922 Smith & Wesson is incorporated under the laws of Massachusetts on December 20, 1922.
1924 In September the company branches out into the manufacture of small water motors. The plant has 185,000 sq. ft.
1925 Officers: Harold Wesson- President, D. B. Wesson- Vice President, F. H. Wesson- Treasurer, George Chapin- Clerk.
1930s A truly target grade .32 cal. gun is put together in the late 1930s.
1945 Plant located at Springfield with 185,000 sq.ft. of floor space has a production capacity of about 125,000 firearms per annum. Officers: President- Harold Wesson, Vice President & Treasurer- H. Wesson, Clerk-George P. Chapin, Sales Manager-David H. Murray and Service Department- F. H. Miller. Net assets, as of November 10, 1944- $890,708, with 500,000 shares of stock.
1957 Officers: President- Carl R. Hellstrom, V. President & Treasurer Frank H. Wesson, Sales Manager- Harold 0. Austin, Assistant Plant Manager- Daniel B. Wesson.
1965 Smith & Wesson is now controlled by Bangor Punta Alegre Sugar Corporation. The 200 acre site has 350,000 sq. ft. of floor space and on an adjacent 31 acre site, a 100,000 sq. ft. plant addition is under construction.
1973 According to a March 1973 New York Times article, "Gun Industry", sales for Smith & Wesson are at $43.3 million and a net income of $8.3 million is realized.
1984 As stated in Moody's Industrial Manual, Smith & Wesson is acquired by Lear-Siegler Inc., February 24, 1984.
1986 The latest change in the company's ownership occurs in 1986. Smith & Wesson (handguns and handcuffs) is acquired by Gregor: Hutchings of F. H. Tomkins-PLC of United Kingdom for $113 million ($67 million English pounds). The consumer products division now encompasses the handguns, handcuffs and identi-kit system.
Scope and Contents of the Collection

Records, approximately 10,000 items, are comprised of incoming sales and service correspondence, with some outgoing correspondence, and administrative and financial/legal subject files. The bulk of the sales and service correspondents represented in this collection are individual gun users, sharpshooters, pawn shop owners, gun clubs, gun dealers, collectors, policemen and police organizations, military personnel, boys clubs, schools, exporters and foreign agents. Of special interest is the correspondence of the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) (1926-1927, 1943-1944), Small Arms Industry Advisory Committee (1941, 1944), United States Revolver Association (1927-1928), and other letters from gun legislation factions, firearms manufacturers and foreign countries. The correspondence, from U.S. and foreign sources, contains original handwritten and typed letters, carbon copies, and some printed form letters.

Administrative and financial/legal records, comprised of materials found scattered throughout the papers, have been reorganized into manageable subject files. Among these files are items from the following categories: ads and advertising, American Railway Express, audits, counselors at law, debtors, insurance, legal actions, newsletters, patents and trademarks, personnel, photos, sample parts, sideline ventures, stocks and bonds awards, Western Union Telegrams and others as identified in the various series.

This collection offers resources for researchers interested in the history of firearms, firearms industry and labor, gun legislation, and gun-ownership around the 1920s and early 1940s.

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The collection is open for research.

Preferred Citation

Cite as: Smith and Wesson Company Records (MS 267). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

History of the Collection

Processing Information

Processed by Mike Milewski, Spring 1990.

Additional Information
Contact Information
Special Collections and University Archives
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003-9275

Phone: (413) 545-2780
Fax: (413) 577-1399