Skip to Main Content

American Firearms and Their Makers: A Research Guide

Smith & Wesson

Smith and Wesson Factory, Springfield, Massachusetts
Detroit Publishing Co. Smith and Wesson Factory, Springfield, Mass. 1908. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The history of Smith & Wesson began in 1856 in Springfield, Massachusetts, after Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson sold their original company. Because the patent on the Colt revolver was set to expire, Wesson began to develop a new cartridge revolver. In 1860 orders for the Smith & Wesson Model 1 revolver outpaced the factory's production capabilities. During the Civil War soldiers from all ranks on both sides made private purchases of the revolvers for self-defense. After the war, Smith & Wesson developed arms for the American frontier. It switched focus from pocket-sized revolvers to large frame revolvers using heavier caliber cartridges (such as the .44 S&W American). This new design, the Smith & Wesson Model 3, was adopted by the US Army as the first cartridge-firing revolver in US service. In 1899 Smith & Wesson introduced its most widely used revolver, the .38 Military & Police (also known as the Smith & Wesson Model 10). It became the standard sidearm of American police officers for much of the 20th century, with more than 6 million produced. An additional one million of these guns were made for the US Military during World War II.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to online resources are included when available.