Smith & Wesson

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Smith & Wesson
Part of public company American Outdoor Brands Corporation
Founded 1852; 166 years ago (1852)
Founders Horace Smith, Daniel B. Wesson
Headquarters Springfield, Massachusetts, United States
Key people
P. James Debney (CEO), Jeffrey D. Buchanan (CFO), Leland A. Nichols (COO),
Products Firearms and ammunition
Revenue Increase US$903 million (2016)[1]
Increase US$199.94 million (2016)[1]
Increase US$191.31 million (2016)[1]
Total assets
  • Increase US$326.989 million (2013) [2]
  • Decrease US$261.674 million (2012) [3]
Number of employees
2,204 (2017)[4]
Subsidiaries Thompson/Center

Smith & Wesson (S&W) is an American manufacturer of firearms, ammunition and restraints. The corporate headquarters are in Springfield, Massachusetts. Smith & Wesson was founded in 1852 and after various corporate changes is now a unit of American Outdoor Brands Corporation.


Early history[edit]

Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson founded the Smith & Wesson Company in Norwich, Connecticut in 1852 to develop the Volcanic rifle. Smith developed a new Volcanic Cartridge, which he patented in 1854. The Smith & Wesson Company was renamed Volcanic Repeating Arms in 1855, and was purchased by Oliver Winchester. Smith left the company and returned to his native Springfield, Massachusetts, while Wesson stayed on as plant manager with Volcanic Repeating Arms.[5]

As Samuel Colt's patent on the revolver was set to expire in 1856, Wesson began developing a prototype for a cartridge revolver. His research pointed out that a former Colt employee named Rollin White held the patent for a "Bored-through" cylinder, a component he would need for his invention. Wesson reconnected with Smith and the two partners approached White to manufacture a newly designed revolver-and-cartridge combination.[5]

Rather than make White a partner in their company, Smith and Wesson paid him a royalty of $0.25 on every revolver that they made. It would become White's responsibility to defend his patent in any court cases which eventually led to his financial ruin, but was very advantageous for the new Smith & Wesson Company.[5]

19th century[edit]

Smith & Wesson's revolvers came into popular demand with the outbreak of the American Civil War as soldiers from all ranks on both sides of the conflict made private purchases of the revolvers for self-defense.[6]

The orders for the Smith & Wesson Model 1 revolver outpaced the factory's production capabilities. In 1860 demand was so great that Smith & Wesson expanded into a new facility and began experimenting with a new cartridge design more suitable than the .22 Short that it had been using.[6]

At the same time, the company's design was being infringed upon by other manufacturers which led to numerous lawsuits filed by Rollin White. In many of these instances part of the restitution came in the form of the offender being forced to stamp "Manufactured for Smith & Wesson" on the revolvers in question.[6]

White's vigorous defense of his patent caused a problem for armsmakers in the United States at the time as they could not manufacture cartridge revolvers. At the end of the war the U.S. Government charged White with causing the retardation of arms development in America.[6]

Demand for revolvers declined at the close of the Civil War so Smith & Wesson focused on the development of arms suitable for use on the American frontier. In 1870 the company switched focus from pocket sized revolvers to a large frame revolver in heavier calibers (.44 S&W American). This new design, known as 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). With over 6 million produced, it became the standard sidearm of American police officers for much of the 20th century.[7] An additional 1 million of these guns were made for the US Military during World War II.[7]

20th century[edit]

The post-war periods in the 20th century were times of great innovation for the company. In 1935 Smith and Wesson released the Smith & Wesson Model 27 which was the first revolver chambered for .357 Magnum. It was designed as a more powerful handgun for law enforcement officers. The Model 27 started the "Magnum Era" of handguns. The high point was in 1955 when the company created the Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 Magnum. Two decades later the Dirty Harry movies made this gun a cultural icon.[8]

In 1965 the Wesson family sold its controlling interest in Smith and Wesson to Bangor Punta, a large American conglomerate.[9] Over the next decade Bangor Punta diversified the company's civilian sales to include related gun products (such as holsters) as well as offering additional police equipment (such as handcuffs and breathalyzers).[7] By the late 1970s these profitable moves made Smith and Wesson "the envy of the industry" according to Business Week.[10]

Despite all of these advantages, however, Smith & Wesson's market share began to decline in the 1980s. As the war on drugs intensified in the United States, police departments all across the country replaced their Smith and Wesson revolvers with European semiautomatics (such as Glock, Sig Sauer and Beretta).[11] From 1982 to 1986 profits at the company declined by 41 percent [7] Company ownership changed twice during the decade.

In June 1987 Tomkins plc paid $112.5 million to purchase Smith & Wesson.[12] Tomkins modernized the production equipment and instituted additional testing which significantly increased product quality.[7] However new gun sales in the United States lagged in the 1990s, some of which was attributed to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. Also there were numerous city and state lawsuits against Smith and Wesson. After the success of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, municipalities thought they might be able to succeed through tort law against the gun industry as well.[13] These political and legal challenges provided a lot of risk and uncertainty for Smith and Wesson's future.

Clinton agreement[edit]

On March 17, 2000, Smith & Wesson made an agreement with U.S. President Bill Clinton under which it would implement changes in the design and distribution of its firearms in return for "preferred buying program" to offset the loss of revenue as a result of anticipated boycott.[14] The agreement stated all authorized dealers and distributors of Smith & Wesson's products had to abide by a "code of conduct" to eliminate the sale of firearms to prohibited persons, and dealers had to agree to not allow children under 18 (without an adult present) access to gun shops or sections of stores that contained firearms.[14]

After an organized campaign by the NRA and NSSF over the issue of smart guns,[15] thousands of retailers and tens of thousands of firearms consumers boycotted Smith & Wesson.[16][17] CEO Ed Shultz, who negotiated the deal, was forced out in September of that year.[18] By December 2000, the company's stock price was 19 cents per share.[19] Smith & Wesson dropped its smart gun plans after nearly being driven out of business.[20]


On May 11, 2001, Saf-T-Hammer Corporation acquired Smith & Wesson Corp. from Tomkins plc for US$15 million, a fraction of the US$112 million originally paid by Tomkins.[21] Saf-T-Hammer assumed US$30 million in debt, bringing the total purchase price to US$45 million.[22][23] Saf-T-Hammer, a manufacturer of firearms locks and other 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.[24]

On February 15, 2002, the name of the newly formed entity was changed to Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation.[25]

Recent history[edit]

In 2006 Smith & Wesson refocused its marketing on big box retailers, according to Smith & Wesson CEO Mike Golden in a 2008 conference call with investors.[26]

Smith & Wesson Holding announced in December 2014 that it was paying $130.5 million for Battenfeld Technologies, a Columbia, Missouri-based designer and distributor of hunting and shooting accessories. The company made the acquisition with the eventual intent to merge all its existing Smith & Wesson, M&P and Thompson Center Arms accessories into a single division.[27]

In August 2016 the company bought Crimson Trace, a laser-sight manufacturer, for $95 million and Taylor Brands, a tool and knife maker, for $85 million. In November of that same year the company bought UST Brands, a survival equipment maker, for $32.3 million. On November 7, 2016, Smith & Wesson announced that it would be changing the name of its holding company to American Outdoor Brands Corporation.[28]

In 2017 Smith & Wesson saw a severe contraction in its sales as units shipped to distributors and retailers declined 38.3%. The company was forced to lay off one-fourth of its manufacturing workforce.[29]

The company has come under increased scrutiny due to the frequent use of its firearms in mass shootings such as the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, in which 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz used a Smith & Wesson AR-15 style rifle, the semi-automatic M&P15. The same weapon was used in the 2015 San Bernardino attack and the 2012 Aurora shooting.[30][31][32][33]



Bullet coming from a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum, taken with an air-gap flash.


Smith & Wesson has produced revolvers over the years in several standard frame sizes. M refers to the small early Ladysmith frame, I to the small .32 frame, J to the small .38 frame, K to the medium .38 frame, L to medium large, and N to the largest .44 Magnum type frame.[38] In 2003, the even larger X frame was introduced for the .500 S&W Magnum.

Most Smith & Wesson revolvers have been equipped with an internal locking mechanism since the acquisition by Saf-T-Hammer. The mechanism is relatively unobtrusive, is activated with a special key, and renders the firearm inoperable. While the lock can simply be left disengaged, most gun enthusiasts prefer "pre-lock" guns.[50][51]

Semi-automatic pistols[edit]

In 1953 the U.S. Army was looking for a pistol to replace the Colt 1911A1.[39] To obtain a bid from the U.S. Government, Smith & Wesson began working on a design similar to the German Walther P38.[39] A year later the Army dropped its search and Smith & Wesson introduced its pistol to the civilian shooting market as the Model 39.[39]

The Model 39 would come to be known as a first-generation pistol. Since the Model 39 debuted, Smith & Wesson has continuously developed this design into its third-generation pistols now on the market. The first-generation models use a 2-digit model number, the second generation use 3 digits, and third-generation models use 4 digits.

.45 Semi-auto Chief's Special

Along with the myriad smaller configurations, the mid-sized 4516, 457, the Chiefs Special CS45, and the decocker equipped, 4546, 4566 and 4576, and the 45 TSW, the 4553, stll being issued to the West Virginia State Troopers.[53]

For many of the second-generation models, the first digit identified the material used in the frame;[citation needed] thus a first digit of 4 indicated an alloy, a first digit of 5 indicated blued steel, and a first digit of 6 indicated stainless steel. For most of the third-generation models, the first two digits identified the caliber (except for 59/69 for 9mm), the last two digits were for the action style and the material, respectively. Action style numbers were typically 0 for the standard double/single-action and 4 for double-action-only. Material numbers were commonly 3 for aluminium, 4 for blued steel, and 6 for stainless steel.[citation needed]

Sigma series[edit]

A Sigma pistol

Smith & Wesson introduced the Sigma series of recoil-operated, locked-breech semi-auto pistols in 1994 with the Sigma SW40F, followed by the Sigma SW9F 9 mm, which included a 17-shot magazine.[39] Glock initiated a patent infringement lawsuit against Smith & Wesson. The latter paid an undisclosed amount to settle the case and for the right to continue producing models in the Sigma line.[54] The gun frame is manufactured from polymer, while the slide and barrel use either stainless steel or carbon steel. In 1996, Smith & Wesson updated the Sigma by adding a compact model with a shortened barrel (from 4​12 to 4 inches) and again, in 1999, modified the series by changing the grip by adding checkering and adding an integral accessory rail for lights and laser targeting devices.[39]

SW99 Series[edit]

S&W reached an agreement with Walther to produce variations of the P99 line of pistols.[39] Branded as the SW99, the pistol is available in several calibers, including 9 mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP, and in both full size and compact variations. Under the terms of the agreement, Walther produced the frames, and Smith & Wesson produced the slide and barrel. The pistol has several cosmetic differences from the original Walther design and strongly resembles a hybrid between the P99 and the Sigma series.[39]

M&P Series[edit]

Smith & Wesson M&P pistol.

In 2005, Smith & Wesson debuted a new polymer-frame pistol intended for the law enforcement market. Dubbed the M&P (for Military and Police), its name was meant to evoke S&W's history as the firearm of choice for law enforcement agencies through its previous lineup of M&P revolvers. The M&P is a completely new design with no parts interchangeable with any other pistol including the Sigma. The new design not only looks completely different than the Sigma but feels completely different with 3 different back straps supplied with each M&P. Many of the ergonomic study elements that had been incorporated into the Sigma and the SW99 were brought over to the M&P. The improved trigger weight and feel, and unique takedown method (not requiring a dry pull of the trigger) were meant to set the M&P apart from both the Sigma and the popular Glock pistols.

The M&P is available in 9×19mm, .40 S&W, and .357 SIG. Also a .22 LR M&P was developed with Carl Walther and is made in Germany. A .45 ACP model was released in early 2007, after making its debut at the SHOT Show. In addition, compact versions are available in .22LR, 9×19mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 ACP. The .22LR Compact is made by Smith & Wesson in the United States. Subcompact versions are available in 9×19mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.

SD VE Series[edit]

Smith & Wesson introduced the SD VE series in 2012 in hopes of remaking and improving the discontinued Smith & Wesson SD. The SD VE design has an improved self-defense trigger and a comfortable, ergonomic, textured grip. The SD VE also features an improved stainless steel barrel and slide that the SD did not include. The Smith & Wesson SD VE is available in 9×19mm and .40 S&W calibers in either a standard-capacity version (16+1-round capacity for SD9 VE and 14+1 for SD40 VE) or in the low-capacity version (10+1-round capacity for both calibers.)

SW1911 Series[edit]

A basic version of Smith & Wesson's SW1911 with user-installed Pachmayr grips.

In 2003, Smith & Wesson introduced their variation of the classic M1911 .45 ACP semi-automatic handgun, the SW1911. This firearm retains the M1911's well known dimensions, operation, and feel, while adding a variety of modern touches. Updates to the design include serration at the front of the slide for easier operation and disassembly, a high "beaver-tail" grip safety, external extractor, lighter weight hammer and trigger, as well as updated internal safeties to prevent accidental discharges if dropped. S&W 1911s are available with black finished carbon steel slides and frames or bead blasted stainless slides and frames. They are available with aluminum frames alloyed with scandium in either natural or black finishes. These updates have resulted in a firearm that is true to the M1911 design, with additions that would normally be considered "custom", with a price similar to equivalent designs from other manufacturers.

Smith & Wesson's Performance Center produces the top of the line hand fitted competition version knowns as the PC 1911. While most 1911s run around 38 to 39 ounces (1,100 to 1,100 g), the PC 1911 is heavier, at approximately 41 ounces (1,200 g). The full-length guide rod adds some weight, and so does the add-on magazine well.

Rifles and carbines[edit]

During the early years of WW2, Smith & Wesson manufactured batches of the Model 1940 Light Rifle under request from the British Government.[55]

In January 2006, Smith & Wesson reentered the rifle market with its M&P15 series of rifles based on the AR-15. Unveiled at SHOT Show 2006, the rifle debuted in two varieties: the M&P15 and the M&P15T. The two are basically the same rifle, chambered in 5.56 NATO, with the T model featuring folding sights and a four-sided accessories rail. These rifles were first produced by Stag Arms but marketed under the Smith & Wesson name.[56] Currently Smith & Wesson makes the lower receiver in-house while the barrel is supplied by Thompson/Center, a S&W company.

In May 2008, Smith & Wesson introduced its first AR-variant rifle in a caliber other than 5.56 NATO. The M&P15R is a standard AR-15 rifle chambered for the 5.45×39mm cartridge.[57] In 2009, it released the M&P15-22, chambered for .22 Long Rifle.[58]

Smith & Wesson manufactured a line of bolt-action rifles called the i-Bolt.[citation needed] These synthetic-stock rifles were available in .25-06, .270 Win, or .30-06 caliber.

Submachine gun[edit]

In 1967 Smith & Wesson produced a 9mm submachine gun, hoping to capitalize on U.S. sales of the Israeli Uzi and HK MP5. It borrowed the magazine of the Carl Gustav M/45 submachine gun (Kulsprutepistol m/45 or Kpist m/45) which had been popular with the U.S. forces in Vietnam as the "Swedish K") and made a similar side-folding stock. But the rest of the straight blowback weapon had no parts in common with the earlier Swedish gun. The S&W Model 76 submachine gun was made in limited numbers and was primarily used as a police weapon. Because all of them were made prior to 1986, many of them made it into civilian hands in the United States and are commonly used in submachine gun competition.[44]


Smith & Wesson bought patents and tooling for a 12 ga. shotgun design from Noble Manufacturing Co. in 1972 and produced it as the Model 916, 916T, and 916A.[59] The guns were plagued by a variety of quality issues, including a recall due to a safety issue with barrels rupturing.[60] The 916 series was discontinued, then later replaced by the Models 3000, based on an improved Remington 870 design, and 1000 intended to compete with the popular Remington Model 1100; both were produced by Howa of Japan.[61] However, with the sale of the company to British Tomkins PLC, Smith & Wesson exited the shotgun market in the mid'80s to return to their "core" market of handguns.

During the 1980s, Smith & Wesson released the S&W assault shotgun, which had full automatic capability.

In November 2006, S&W announced that it would reenter the shotgun market with two new lines of shotguns, the Elite series and the 1000 series, unveiled at the 2007 SHOT Show. The 1000 series was discontinued in 2009. Along with the new shotguns, S&W debuted the Heirloom Warranty program, a first of its kind in the firearms industry. The warranty provides both the original buyer and the buyer's chosen heir with a lifetime warranty on all Elite Series shotguns.[62]

Other products[edit]

Smith & Wesson is also a manufacturer of restraints (handcuffs, leg irons, belly chains, prisoner transport chains). Smith & Wesson first manufactured handcuffs for the Peerless handcuff company which obtained the right to produce the first swinging-bow handcuffs patented by George A. Carney in 1912. Peerless did not have the facilities necessary for production so they contracted Smith & Wesson to manufacture the handcuffs for them.[63] When Peerless set up its own production plant, Smith & Wesson continued to produce Peerless-type handcuffs under their own brand.[64]

A Smith & Wesson "ExtremeOps" brand pocket knife

Smith & Wesson markets firearm accessories, safes, apparel, watches, collectibles, knives, axes, tools, air guns, emergency lightbars, and other products under its brand name.[citation needed]

John Wilson and Roy G. Jinks designed the Smith & Wesson model 6010 Bowie knife in 1971 and the 1973 Texas Ranger Bowie knife. Blackie Collins designed the subsequent model 6020 and 6060 Survival knife in 1974–1979. All of these limited-production and custom knives were made at the Springfield, Mass., United States factory.[citation needed]

In October 2002, Smith & Wesson announced it had entered into a licensing agreement with Cycle Source Group to produce a line of bicycles designed by and for law enforcement. These bicycles had custom configurations and silent hubs.[65][66]

Smith & Wesson flashlights are available to the general public. They are designed and produced by PowerTech, Inc, in Collierville, Tennessee.[67]

Smith & Wesson has a line of wood pellet grills named after various pistol cartridges, such as .22 Magnum, .38 Special, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, and .500 Magnum.[68]

Smith & Wesson has entered into a licensing agreement with North Carolina-based Wellco Enterprises to design and distribute a full line of tactical law enforcement footwear.[69]

See also[edit]



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  3. ^ "Smith & Wesson Holding Corp 2012 Annual Report Form (10-K)" (XBRL). United States Securities and Exchange Commission. June 25, 2013. 
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  9. ^ [1] Bangor Punta Corporate Timeline
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  11. ^ "Duty Guns of America's Largest Police Departments". May 21, 2014. Retrieved May 1, 2018. 
  12. ^ [2] Smith & Wesson is sold to Britons
  13. ^ [Barrett, Paul M., "Attacks on Firearms Echo Earlier Assaults on Tobacco Industry," Wall Street Journal, March 12, 1999, pp. A1, A6.]
  14. ^ a b "Clinton Administration reaches historic agreement with Smith & Wesson". The White House Office of the Press Secretary. March 17, 2000. 
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  16. ^ Carter 2002, p. 542.
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  26. ^ "Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation F4Q08 (Qtr End 04/30/08) Earnings Call Transcript". SeekingAlpha. June 13, 2008. Retrieved March 11, 2017. We really have refocused our efforts on the big boxes. We put this new sales force in place, which was about 2 years ago, I guess, now. We focused on the larger dealers... 
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  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Barnes & Skinner 2003, p. 528.
  35. ^ a b Sharpe, Philip B. Complete Guide to Handloading: A Treatise on Handloading for Pleasure, Economy and Utility. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 
  36. ^ See .40 S&W.[citation needed]
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  38. ^ Boorman 2002, pp. 44–45.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai Hartink 2002, pp. 87–88.
  40. ^ Supica & Nahas 2007, p. 72.
  41. ^ Supica & Nahas 2007, p. 80.
  42. ^ Hartink 2002.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Supica & Nahas 2007, p. 168.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h Supica & Nahas 2007, p. 384.
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  46. ^ Boorman 2002, pp. 117.
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  48. ^ a b c d e Supica & Nahas 2007, pp. 421–422.
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  50. ^ Carter 2006, p. 210.
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  54. ^ Smith, Dan (April 2006). "Review: Smith & Wesson M&P .40 Cal Pistol". Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  55. ^ Supica, Jim; Nahas, Richard (November 14, 2016). Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson. Iola, Wisconsin: F+W Media. pp. 409–410. ISBN 978-1-4402-4565-7. 
  56. ^ "Smith & Wesson Enters Long-Gun Market with M&P15 Rifles" (Press release). Smith & Wesson. January 18, 2006. Retrieved June 27, 2014. 
  57. ^ Johnson, Richard. "Smith and Wesson M&P15R: New AR15 Platform Rifle and Uppers in 5.45×39". Guns Holsters And Gear. Retrieved November 11, 2015. 
  58. ^ Rackley, Paul. "An AR Plinking Good Time". American Rifleman. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. 
  59. ^ Petzal, David E.; Bourjaily, Phil (November 9, 2007). "Six Candidates for the Worst Shotguns of All Time". Field & Stream. Retrieved November 12, 2015. 
  60. ^ "Gun barrels recalled". The Leader-Post. November 17, 1978. p. 1. 
  61. ^ Ayoob, Massad (2007). "New and improved, old and proven: our handgun editor applauds Smith & Wesson's latest update for 2007". Guns Magazine. 
  62. ^ "Smith & Wesson Enters Shotgun Market" (Press release). Smith & Wesson. November 16, 2006. Retrieved June 27, 2014. 
  63. ^ Nichols, Alex R. (2002). A guidebook to handcuffs and other restraints of the world. p. 157. 
  64. ^ Nichols, Alex R. (2002). A guidebook to handcuffs and other restraints of the world. p. 162. 
  65. ^ "Smith & Wesson Enters Licensing Agreement With Cycle Source Group" (Press release). Smith & Wesson. October 3, 2002. Retrieved June 27, 2014. 
  66. ^ "Smith & Wesson Bicycles Receive Wide Acclaim" (Press release). Smith & Wesson. April 16, 2003. Retrieved June 27, 2014. 
  67. ^ Wagner 2009, p. 277.
  68. ^ Supica & Nahas 2007, pp. 390–393.
  69. ^ Archived June 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.


External links[edit]