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Smith & Wesson is the largest manufacturer of handguns in the United States. It was founded in 1852 when two partners, Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson, formed a company to produce a lever-action pistol nicknames the "Volcanic" pistol. The company became known as the "Volcanic Repeating Arms Company".
In 1854, due to financial difficulties, they were forced to sell the majority of their company to investor and shirt manufacture, Oliver Winchester. Later, in 1866, using the original lever action design created by Smith & Wesson, Winchester's company emerged as the famous Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Previously, around the late 1840s, Daniel Wesson's brother Edwin, of Hartford, Massachusetts, had manufactured revolvers under the name of Wesson & Leavitt. After Edwin Wesson's death, that firm continued under the supervision of Thomas Warner.
In 1856 the partners left the Volcanic Company to begin a new company to manufacture a newly-designed revolver-and-cartridge combination which would become known as the Smith & Wesson Model 1. The Smith & Wesson Model 1 was the first firearm manufactured by the company, with production commencing in 1857. It was also the first commercially available revolver to use rimfire cartridges instead of loose powder, ball, and percussion caps. It is a single-action, tip-up revolver holding 7 .22 Short cartridges.
A man by the name of Rollin White had patented his invention, a design based on bored-through revolver cylinders for metallic cartridge use.
Smith & Wesson negotiated with Rollin White for assignment of the patent, agreeing to pay him a small royalty on every pistol sold. In return, White agreed to pay any legal fees associated with the defense of his patent against any infringements.
For more than a decade, Smith & Wesson was the sole manufacturer of this technological improvement. However, the success did not come without a fight. Other manufacturers quickly developed unique metallic cartridges and cylinders designs to circumvent White's patent. White took these manufactures to court, where he eventually won in 1862, however full implementation of the ruling did not effect until 1865. The timing of the founding of this new company proved quite opportune for the partners, since the onset of the American Civil War five years later produced a great demand for Smith & Wesson's products, specifically the Smith & Wesson Model 2.
In 1867, the partners began a global sales campaign that introduces the company's revolvers and ammunition to new markets, such as Russia, and established the company as one of the world's premier makers of firearms.
The partners realized that when their patents expired they would need a new design to maintain their market superiority. The new design was completed in 1869 and the company began marketing it in 1870. The Model 3 American, as it became known in the United States, was the first large caliber cartridge revolver and established Smith & Wesson as a world leader in handgun manufacturing. The two most important customers for the new revolver were the United States Cavalry, which purchased 1,000 units for use on the Western Frontier, and the Russian Imperial Government.
The Smith & Wesson Model 3, eventually became known as the "Russian Model" and was a favorite of US Lawman, Wyatt Earp. The US Army adopted the Model 3 as the "Schofield" and used it throughout the Indian Wars of the West.
In 1873, at the age of 65, Horace Smith retired from the company and sold his share of the business to D. B. Wesson, making him the sole owner of the firm. In the late 1800's the company introduced its line of hammerless revolvers. These are still represented in today's handgun line.
The company then introduced what is probably the most famous revolver in the world, the .38 Military & Police or, as it is called today, the Model 10. This revolver has been in continual production since that year and has been used by virtually every police agency and military force around the world.
The company's contribution to the history of handgun and cartridge development continued through the 20th Century. The first Magnum revolver, the .357 Magnum, was introduced by the company in 1935. In 1955 the first American made double action auto-loading pistol, the Model 39, was introduced.
The Model 29 chambered in .44 magnum - the handgun made famous by Clint Eastwood in the movie "Dirty Harry" - was unveiled in 1956. In 1965 S&W began producing the Model 60 - the world's first stainless steel revolver - launching the era of stainless steel firearms.
In 1964 the company passed from Wesson family control, and subsequently several conglomerates took control of it. Between 1987 and 2001 Smith & Wesson was owned by the British engineering company Tomkins PLC.
In March 2000 the company signed an agreement with the Clinton Administration in order to avoid lawsuits. The company agreed to numerous safety and design standards, as well as limits on the sale and distribution of their products. Gun clubs and gun rights groups responded to this agreement by initiating large-scale boycotts of Smith & Wesson by refusing to buy their new products and flooding the firearms market with used S&W guns, cutting into their market share.
This agreement signed by Tomkins PLC with the Clinton Administration ended with the sale of Smith and Wesson to the Saf-T-Hammer Corporation. The new company (Smith and Wesson Holding Corporation), which publicly renounced the agreement, was received positively by the firearms community.
While the boycotts continued, the steep sales decline mainly attributable to the consumer boycott led the company to layoff 15 percent of its workforce, which were 125 of its employees. Ed Shultz, the CEO of Smith and Wesson and another Tomkins unit Murray Inc., resigned from Smith & Wesson in order to remain president of Murray. George Colclough, vice-president of administration, succeeded Shultz.
On May 11, 2001, Saf-T-Hammer Corporation acquired Smith & Wesson Corp. from Tomkins PLC for $15 million, a fraction of the $112 million originally paid by Tomkins. Saf-T-Hammer assumed $30 million in debt, bringing the total purchase price to $45 million. Saf-T-Hammer, a manufacturer of gun locks and other firearms safety products, purchased the company with the intention of incorporating its line of security products into all Smith & Wesson firearms in compliance with the 2000 agreement.
The acquisition of Smith & Wesson was chiefly brokered by Saf-T-Hammer President Bob Scott, who had left Smith & Wesson in 1999 because of a disagreement with Tomkins' policies. After the purchase, Scott became the president of Smith & Wesson to guide the 157-year-old company back to its former standing in the market. On February 15, 2002, the name of the newly formed entity was changed to Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation.
Today, the corporate headquarters of Smith & Wesson is in Springfield, Massachusetts. Founded in 1852, Smith & Wesson's pistols and revolvers have become standard issue to police and armed forces throughout the world. Consequently they have been used by sport shooters and have been featured in numerous Hollywood movies, particularly Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. 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.
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