By Ashley Lynn Hlebinsky, American Handgunner
Walking into a firearms museum, it’s easy to marvel at the broad range of firearms and become impervious to the uniqueness of individual guns. It’s especially difficult at a place like the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, whose collection of firearms totals 7,000, with about 3,600 on display.
In a collection like this, it’s important not to get lost in the vastness of the seemingly endless displays and to recognize the contextual and historical significance of individual artifacts. Each firearm has a unique story to tell about engineering, innovation, manufacturers and the owners and users. A prominent piece to understanding these firearms is the trial and error process manufacturers underwent to either create a successful product or one that fell into obscurity.
Chambered in .32 ACP and outfitted with a 10-round
double-stack magazine, the Savage Model 1907 saw action
in World War I — used by the Allied French forces.
In 1854, Smith & Wesson patented a repeating firearm to stand as an alternative to Samuel Colt’s 1836 revolver patent. The Volcanic Repeating Pistol, named after S&W’s Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, became the grandfather of the Winchester Lever Action; a gun synonymous with the American West. The Cody Firearms Museum houses a comprehensive collection of Volcanics, including this .30 caliber, lever-action pistol with an octagonal barrel and walnut grips.
It was slated to fire an early form of caseless ammunition designed by Walter Hunt, called Rocket Ball, but due to jamming issues, later models were engineered to fire traditional metallic cartridges. Smith & Wesson sold the rights to the patent in 1855 to a shirt manufacturer named Oliver Winchester. While the patent represented a financial loss for Smith & Wesson, it was a tremendous gain for what became the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
By 1856, Horace Smith & Daniel B. Wesson had achieved success with the production of a revolver and cartridge system. With the acquisition of the rights to the Rollin White Patent — which monopolized the use of a bored-through cylinder and the Smith & Wesson-designed self-contained cartridge — this company became leaders in revolver production.
They found a niche market acknowledging the interest of women in the industry. This first Model Smith & Wesson LadySmith, manufactured in 1903, fires a .22 S&W long rimfire cartridge. It has a nickeled, 3″ barrel with a round butt and a frame-mounted cylinder release. This type of firearm was manufactured throughout the 20th century. By the 1980’s, an increasingly visible population of women shooters rejuvenated the interest in it. In 1989, Smith & Wesson re-released the LadySmith to include .38 special, .357 Magnum and 9mm offerings.
S&W’s Volcanic pistol evolved to
become the grandfather of the Winchester
Lever-Action, the “gun that won the west.”
Looking more like a sci-fi gun, the Whitney Wolverine was
developed in the 1950’s. Olympic Arms now sells an updated
version of this model.
While Smith & Wesson and Winchester found success in their repeating designs, other inventors at the turn of the 20th century sought to revolutionize the role of another repeater — the semi-auto handgun. Prior to the development of the iconic Model 1911, the Colt Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company had competition, with Savage Arms experimenting in the same market.
Between 1907 and 1920, Savage produced the Model 1907 semi-auto handgun. Early models — including this .32 ACP-caliber firearm with a 10-round double-stacked magazine — could be identified by a loaded chamber indicator. In 1907, Savage lost a bid against a Colt Model 1905 for a US military contract. This firearm, however, was one of 40,000 contracted for French military use during World War I between 1914-1917.
Standing as an example of ingenuity,
the Dardick Model 1500 revolver fired
triangular polymer cartridges, or “trounds.”
The S&W LadySmith was first manufactured in 1903,
specifically with women in mind … not a bad decision.
Firearms inventions can be a story of accomplishment or the beginning of a plunge into relative anonymity. In the 1950’s, one such firearm was the Dardick Model 1500 Pistol. David Dardick marketed this pistol from 1954-1962. Despite its limited success, it stands as an example of ingenuity. It was designed to fire Dardick’s companion invention, the tround: a triangular round. In lieu of a traditional cartridge, the projectile for this gun is contained within a colorful polymer, which is typically blue or green. This type of ammunition allowed for the use of an open-topped chamber.
After production ceased in the 1960’s, Dardick reinvented his ammunition, receiving a patent in 1974 for a tround able to hold multiple rounds and types of projectiles. It was used in the US Army’s Project SALVO in the development of Harrington & Richardson’s Special Purpose Individual Weapon System. Instead of firing bullets from the tround, however, they used high velocity flechettes.
Another invention from the same decade was the Whitney Wolverine. This firearm, manufactured by the Whitney Arms Company, heralded a lightweight aluminum frame. Robert Hillberg, who worked with aluminum casting during World War II, created this 1.3-pound firearm, able to fire 10 .22 LR cartridges.
Due to poor budgeting constraints and marketing, the company only produced 13,371 firearms between 1956-1958. While this design initially disappeared from the scene, it was redeveloped after its appropriation by Olympic Arms Inc., which manufactures an upgraded version of the firearm today.
These firearms highlight a few of the historically-significant artifacts located at the Cody Firearms Museum. The collection interprets the diverse stories behind each gun that can include — but aren’t limited to — the trial and error processes of firearms manufacturing. Still, each story contributes to the greater narrative of how guns continue to represent a symbolic and educational tool for an increased understanding of American culture.
Thanks to American Handgunner for this contribution. Click here to visit them – click here to get American Handgunner delivered to your door for $9.95 a year.