Gun Inventors Were “Inveterate Tinkerers”

(p. A17) Whenever I hear the name Smith & Wesson, I think of the scene in the film “Sudden Impact” when Clint Eastwood’s Inspector Harry Callahan confronts a group of would-be robbers. “We’re not just gonna let you walk out of here,” Callahan tells them. When one of the crooks asks, “Who’s we, sucker?” Callahan responds, in classic Dirty Harry fashion: “Smith, and Wesson, and me.”

In “Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them,” John Bainbridge Jr. chronicles the rise of America’s greatest gunmakers—among them Colt, Remington, Winchester and, yes, Smith and Wesson. Many of these American armorers began as inveterate tinkerers in small workshops along the Connecticut River during the mid-19th century, in a region that could be called early industrial America’s fertile crescent. While some of these inventors were focused on rifles and others on handguns, they all shared the same goal: to design a repeating firearm and a reliable, waterproof cartridge containing bullet, gunpowder and ignition device, making it possible to fire shot after shot without needing to reload.

. . .

. . . there was the Volition Repeater, invented in 1847 by Walter Hunt, the creator of the household safety pin. Hunt’s rifle, in theory, could be loaded with up to a dozen cartridges underneath its long barrel. But the complex loading mechanism “never worked quite right,” so Hunt sold his patent and left it to others to perfect his idea. “With this would-be firearm, Walter Hunt had made the nation’s future but not his own,” Mr. Bainbridge tells us. “Among those who benefited from Walter Hunt’s genius were Oliver Winchester, Horace Smith, and Daniel Baird Wesson. None of these gun barons possessed the broadly inventive mind of Walter Hunt, yet all would eclipse Hunt while taking advantage of his pioneering work in weaponry.”

For the full review, see:

Mark Yost. “BOOKSHELF; Repeat Inventors.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 19, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date May 18, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Gun Barons’ Review: Repeat Inventors.”)

The book under review is:

Bainbridge, John, Jr. Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2022.

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