- Robert E. Petersen Collection
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- Road to American Liberty - 1700 to 1780
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- Theodore Roosevelt and Elegant Arms - 1880s to 1920s
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Smith & Wesson (Springfield, MA) Model 49 Double-Action Revolver
This engraved blue finish has elephant ivory grip panels.
Massachusetts natives Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson, famous for their revolver designs, are also known for having developed the first practical American-made self-contained metallic cartridge, the .22 rimfire short. Both men were experienced in the design and manufacture of firearms, and in 1852, they formed a partnership for the purpose of manufacturing magazine-type arms. Their Norwich, Connecticut factory produced the iron-frame lever-action Volcanic pistol, patented in 1854 (see case 42 gun #1), which was a direct predecessor to the Henry and Winchester lever-action rifles that became famous during the Civil War and post-war periods.
The Volcanic was a lever-action pistol that featured a front-loading tubular magazine located under the barrel. This gun used a unique type of ammunition that consisted of a hollow-base conical bullet containing propellant and backed by a primer disc. In 1855, Smith & Wesson sold their interest to the newly-organized Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. The firm's manufacturing facilities moved to New Haven, with Smith serving as plant manager for the new company, and Wesson working as plant superintendent.
Soon, however, both men left Volcanic and returned to Springfield, Massachusetts, Horace Smith's hometown. In 1857, Volcanic went into receivership. The firms assets were purchased by Oliver Winchester, a Volcanic stockholder, and was reorganized as the New Haven Arms Company. Production was discontinued entirely in 1860, but the company survived, and by 1866 it became known as Winchester Repeating Arms Co.
In November 1856, Smith and Wesson formed a second partnership to develop and manufacture a revolver that chambered metallic cartridges. Wesson had continued earlier experiments intended to produce a self-contained metallic cartridge, and by August, 1856, he had completed a wooden model of a pistol designed to chamber a rimfire cartridge. Wesson soon discovered that a key feature of his design, a revolving cylinder that was bored to a constant diameter from end to end, had already been patented by Rollin White, a former employee of Samuel Colt. Smith and Wesson entered into an exclusive license to use White's patent in the manufacture of their revolver. White was to receive royalties of 25 cents per gun produced until the expiration of his patent in 1872.
During Smith & Wesson's first year of production, White saw a meager $1 in compensation, but this was soon to change. By 1858, Smith & Wesson's production of both revolvers and ammunition was increasing, and would soon outgrow their original manufacturing facilities. In 1860, the partners completed a new building that would allow continued expansion. Eventually, Smith & Wesson would sell their interests in ammunition manufacturing, but the production of revolvers would continue. Wesson's original design, the seven-shot Smith & Wesson Model No. 1 First Issue Revolver, was manufactured between 1857 and 1860.
This model, with modifications, continued in production as the Model No. 1 Second Issue and Model No. 1 Third Issue Revolvers, with nearly 260,000 of all three variants produced before discontinuation in 1881. By this time, the firm's product line, payroll, and output had increased dramatically. Revolvers chambered for .32, .38, and .44 caliber cartridges supplemented the original .22s, and the firm employed about 500 workers and produced 400 revolvers per day. Smith & Wesson had become dominant in the manufacture of revolvers, and the company's products were sold aro