By Normand Corbin, Northborough Historical Society
Part 2 of a series of articles on the history of the Daniel B. Wesson “White Cliffs” mansion in Northborough, Mass.
Entrepreneur and innovator
Northborough – Born in 1825 in Worcester, Mass., young Daniel Wesson had an interest in all things mechanical. A family letter dated 1842, when Daniel was 17, mentions that although he enjoyed hunting, he would “rather be at work in the shop on gunlocks, springs or something of the kind.” Soon afterward he was apprenticed to his brother Edwin to learn the trade of gun making. Edwin had his shop in Northborough and was a very well-known maker of target rifles.
In 1848, Daniel followed Edwin when the business moved to Hartford Conn. However, in January of 1849, Edwin died of a heart attack at the age of 37. The company was in debt resulting in the business closing and Daniel without a job. This would be the first of several business failures Daniel was involved with. As with many successful entrepreneurs, the road to being a success has some large bumps.
Staying in the firearms industry in Vermont he met Horace Smith in 1850. They decided to set up their own business but it failed a few years later. They sold their technology to Oliver Winchester who was a shirt manufacturer at the time. Winchester used their technology as the basic design for the famous Winchester Repeating Rifle. In 1856 Smith and Wesson teamed up again to start their second company. It was based on a small revolver designed by Daniel Wesson (see photo) that used the “rim fire cartridge” they patented in 1854. This resulted with them being the manufacturer of a patented firearm design that required the use of their patented cartridge. Their strategy prevented other manufacturers from producing a cartridge revolver. This was the first time a shooter could use a fully waterproof cartridge and could carry a handful in their pocket.
They opened their factory in Springfield Mass. just before the Civil War started. As you can imagine, their business was very successful. From this time until Daniel handed the business over to his sons around 1900, he was very involved with the development and patenting of new firearms, looking into overseas markets and non-military applications such as law enforcement, home protection and target shooting. His target shooting firearms were used to win USA Olympic metals.
Reference for much of this information: “Images of America – Smith & Wesson” by Jinks & Krein (2006).