Smith & Wesson Innovations Through the Years

Show Notes

In this week’s No Lowballers podcast by GoWild presented by, we’re talking Smith & Wesson innovations through the years with Mike Helms and Vince Perreault. We dive right into it with Mike giving us a rundown of the .357 and .44 magnums that came from Smith & Wesson early on. We talk about the history of the .357, how it was created, and how every other cartridge today is still measured up to it, especially in the law enforcement world. Smith & Wesson get a lot of their inspiration from ammunition partners who approach them with a cool new round looking for a firearm to match it, with the 30 Super Carry being a recent example of this.

Next up Mike shows us a Smith & Wesson Model 39. After a failed attempt with the Model 1913, Smith & Wesson pivoted and came out the gate strong with the Model 39. The Model 39 was the first 9mm pistol built in America. The Model 39 was the single stack variant with Smith & Wesson quickly producing a double stack variant in the Model 59. Although never officially adopted, the Model 39 does have some military history in a suppressed version dubbed “The Hushpuppy.” With a suppressor and a slide lock, it completely took the innovation of a double stack semi auto away turning it into a single shot but it was almost one of the quietest handguns ever made. While not as popular in the collecting world as revolvers from Smith & Wesson, Model 39’s have slowly started to build a collectible following with prices rising on the market on Vince has noticed a trend in the “nostalgia bump” with many people requesting these style guns remanufactured in today’s market as new.

Closing out, we cover a really exciting topic for Smith & Wesson. After almost 160 years in Springfield, Massachusetts, Smith & Wesson has relocated to Maryville, TN. While an extremely tough decision, Smith & Wesson did their research to make sure the new location ticked all their boxes for just where exactly they wanted to be. With the grand opening party coming up this Saturday, October 7th, 2023, they sold out all their tickets in less than a day. Distribution, plastics, assembly, and front office are all moving to Maryville with some manufacturing processes remaining in Springfield, where there is generational talent at the revolver and 1911 level for Smith & Wesson. The maiden guns coming out of Maryville should start rolling off the line at the end of October. With over 600,000 square feet of state of the art space that is laid out for maximum efficiency, Smith & Wesson absolutely cannot wait to start their engines in their new space.

The show launches every Thursday morning. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. The show launches every Thursday morning. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Check out the Sportsmen's Empire Podcast Network for more relevant outdoor content!

Show Transcript

[00:00:00] Hi everyone, and welcome to the No Lowballers podcast. I'm your host, Logan Medish of High Caliber History. I'm joined around the table today. with Alan from gunbroker. com and we have Vince from Smith Wesson and we have Mike from Mike is from Mike, he's with the Smith Wesson Historical Foundation and the Smith Wesson Collectors Association all around good dudes, we got a great episode great stuff.

We're talking later Smith and Wesson history. And we're going to be talking about the future of the company as things go on, cause there's some big interesting things moving and shaking with them in my state in Tennessee. Yeah, just a couple of things going on there. Yeah.

But first we'll go back and we'll talk about. An interesting time in the company's history in the early 20th century when we're dealing with [00:01:00] ammunition innovations and, iconic cartridges today, such as the 357 Magnum and the 44 Magnum that Smith really came out swinging.

While working on those designs. And so Mike can you talk to us a little bit about, Smith's role in, in early cartridge development? Absolutely. The 38 special, the 44 Smith and Wesson, the 44 Magnum, the 357 Magnum, those all came out of Smith and Wesson. We actually, in the historical foundation, we have a great letter from D.

B. Wesson that's actually talking about the development of the 357 and talking about being able to. Disable a moving vehicle. Of course, this was in the 1930s during prohibition and people were doing bad things with more powerful cars. So being able to penetrate an engine block all of a sudden became a thing for law enforcement and that was a, that was part of what precipitated the development of the three 57.

That's really cool. And especially cause you hear people joking about, Oh, that round is so powerful. I can put it right through an engine block and here's D. B. Wesson going actually, [00:02:00] yours can't. Yeah, then you need to step your game up and get a better cartridge, but really, I would say for, most of the 20th century and into the 21st, there's no more iconic round than the 357 Magnum.

them. It's just, it's the cartridge, all the others have been measured against for years. Especially the law enforcement. Yeah. We've been trying to create an auto loading round that replicates that classic, 125 grain load for years and yeah, gotten close. But at the end of the day, the original is still the king.

Yeah, absolutely. And there's so much history, with ammunition development anyway. We talked in our previous episode with Smith doing early stuff, with their ammunition as well. And so it just works. Perfectly. It's totally on brand right with Smith and Wesson to be going through and doing things.

Like that with the ammunition development. Yeah, it's like we lean on ammo partners a lot to drive a lot of the innovation in the industry there's so much that we can do with a gun, but obviously it has to shoot and so[00:03:00] we see a lot of inspiration and we get that spark from a lot of our ammo partners today, 30 supercarrier was one that was most recent.

And that was federal approaching us and saying, Hey, we've got this cool round. That's supposed to, have the performance in nine millimeter, but smaller. So we can fit more rounds into a gun. Are you guys interested in developing a product around that? And we said, absolutely, not always us approaching people.

But, we're happy to jump in when we can. I think Smith has also been really good over the years of helping solve problems. We knew after the Miami episode there was questions about the efficacy of or certainly the old revolvers. Was the answer for everyone, but obviously had its drawbacks as well, so there was Smith Wesson ready to go with an answer in the 40 Smith Wesson.

And it's a little on the outs these days, but as we, I think we talked in the last episode, there's really nothing wrong with the round. It's still a very good round. No. And they're so cyclical. Something could fall out of favor and then give it a couple of years and it's, people are asking for it.

I think 10 is a prime example for that, there are more companies making guns in 10 now than there [00:04:00] probably ever have been. For years, I worked with another manufacturer and every time we would launch a new handgun within the first three. Facebook posts would always be, Oh, when are you going to do it in 10 millimeter?

Yeah. Became our running joke. So when they did come out with a 10 their pistol product boss calls me. He says, all right, here's our lineup coming for shot. And here's a 10 millimeter. Nah no. Really. It took him a good five, 10 minutes to convince me they were really doing it.

That's funny. I think I've been with Smith for almost six years. And so I've. Been there at the early use of our social media tools. And I've seen all those 10 millimeter comments. And I almost single handedly DM every single person on there. And when we came out with that M and P 10 to tell them to go buy it, finally.

Nice. Yeah, and you mentioned the 30 super carry and it was, I'm glad you brought it up because I was going to bring it up last fall. I was up at federal with the guys from go wild because federal was doing their 100th anniversary and they took me into the gun room. And one of the things they had there is the M and P shield that you guys did in [00:05:00] 30 super carry.

And it was like the prototype tool room gun, if you will, and they had that and that was cool. Cause that's, that is truly modern gun history, and so that was a neat piece to, to see. Yeah. And sometimes it's the other way around, like the 500, for example, was something that was spawned on our side of the fence, but, and it was really just cause we could, why not?

It's To say you've got the most powerful handgun in manufacturing. That's a pretty good check box on the Smith side. Yeah, we have some fun with it too. It's not just the ammo guys coming at us. Yeah. A lot of times when the engineers come with something they can do, not always the best plan, but sometimes they hit it right on the head.

We can do this. Hey, and we should do this. Just because you can fit a 50 BMG in a flare gun, doesn't mean you know? I swear our engineers have like a secret drawer where we just stuff all these prototypes away. They never see the light of day, unfortunately. But that's funny. We were talking about design development and things that don't see the light of day.

We'll talk about something that [00:06:00] did see the light of day at an interesting kind of time period. Mike, we've got a Smith Wesson Model 39 here with us. So tell us what, what drives the introduction of the 39 and when, and what's going on with this gun? Sure. So the model 39 was so Smith and Wesson had a strange beginning with with autoloaders.

There was the model of 1913 which was a very different gun than this. And honestly that one, that was a bit of a squib load for Smith and Wesson. They came out with their own caliber. It was it was the 35 Smith and Wesson, which was. Almost the same as the 32 ACP, but it wasn't quite the same but ballistically it was pretty similar, but the problem was the 32 ACP was already established and the 35 went nowhere.

So the model of 1913 was actually an interesting gun But they just didn't get it right with the ammunition. And it ended up dying a a sort of unknowable death. And it was a good many years before Smith and Wesson produced another auto loader, but they really came out of the gate strong.[00:07:00]

What they developed was the model 39, and this was actually the first American nine millimeter pistol. Single action, double action. So it was built on the 1911 architecture. The takedown pin works very much like a 1911 but there definitely were some differences. And obviously one of them was the single action, double action mechanism.

There was also the de cocker and the safety lever on the slide. So they really got it right with the model 39. This went into military trials fairly quickly. There was, interest in it for obvious reasons. This was then followed up by the model 59, which of course was the double stack version.

This was a this was a single stack the 59 was the double stack. That's 8 rounds in that one, right? Yeah, I believe this is 8 plus 1 and then the 59 was...

Someone tell us in the comments. Yeah more than it was more than eight well over 13. Yeah. Yeah, actually 13 Sounds right ish. It was something in that range But that was really the start of the kind of nine [00:08:00] millimeter wonder guns was the 39 and the 59 with the double stack and then of course, these these morphed into the third gen guns, which which are becoming very collectible now.

There's still a lot of interest in those. So this is really, the model of 1913 was technically where the autoloaders began, but really the 39 and the 59 were where were where the real critical mass for Smith and Wesson began in the in the autoloading pistols. And even though the military didn't.

Officially adopt the 59 because of course they didn't replace the 1911 with it until we got the m9 In 1985 from beretta, but that platform does see military. Oh, absolutely more of a Clandestine kind of thing with the hush puppy. Yep. So can you tell us a little bit about the hush puppy?

Okay, I'll tell us about it. We'll go back and actually we'll take this as an opportunity. Is my mic sounding okay? Yeah, okay. I thought it sounded a little weird. Sorry, I actually, I know what the HUSPAPI is, but I don't, I actually don't know a lot of the history of it, so I'm sorry.[00:09:00] No, you're good. I just sprung it on you.

So we'll take that again. We'll do it. So even though it didn't get officially adopted, it does have some military history in in that it gets used In a suppressed version in more of a clandestine thing. It's called the Hush Puppy. And so obviously it, you're putting a suppressor on the end of it, but there's also a slide lock.

Yeah. So that after you fire the cartridge, you don't have the noise of the cycling of the slide. It's not spitting out brass, so it, so it, it takes the innovation of a. double stack, semi automatic pistol and turns it into a single shot. But it was stupid quiet, but it was stupid quiet.

Special forces used them for, taking out sentries and the Vietnam era, taking out guard dogs, taking out lights, cameras. Things that you could do with, without that slide cycle, because again, there is an amount of gas that comes out during that, without that, it was a remarkably quiet, for a suppressed gunshot, it's still not movie quiet, but it's, it is one of the more quiet.

Platforms put together [00:10:00] and hush puppies become now a bit of a ubiquitous generic term for yes for any of those type guns But that this is where it started. Yeah, that was yeah, and I think the military designation for that was the mark 22 I think again sounds right. If not again, someone will tell us in the comments how wrong we are about everything we're used to that, Makarov Previous episode we were saying Makarov Macaroni Macarena

Someone once described the 39 to me in a way that I thought made a ton of sense. It's the best elements of the 1911 and the best elements of the high power. Yeah. Brought together with a few upgrades here and there. Yeah. I love the high power, but I love shooting the Model 39. I think it's just, it's a better pistol to shoot.

And let's take the difference between the 39 and the 59. Do you have a preference between those, Mike? I actually like the 39. Yeah? I like that slender grip. It just, it fits my hand well. I think from an engineering perspective, they're both superb guns. They both shoot really well, but the 39 just, it just [00:11:00] fits.

I remember the, I still remember the first time I took a 39 in my hand, and it was just like, oh this feels right. It points very naturally. It's everything's just where it should be. Interesting. Yeah, they're beautiful guns. There's they're graceful in a way, in a way that you don't necessarily see in a lot of modern semi auto pistols, right?

For so much of the design it's utility over aesthetics, but that's, that's a beautiful blued gun and. It's almost a shame that the military didn't take it up, because it would be interesting to see if the military had adopted the 39, would they have ended up going with the Beretta M9, or would, would that have still been in service until we went to the M17?

It's just one of those histories, what ifs, that we'll never know. But you raise a great point. We were talking about this earlier, is that this, and especially the third gen guns, are really the last of the, kind of the craftsmanship, the, a little bit of the beauty of it, after this, I think it's apologies, but [00:12:00] soulless, and polymer, and plastic, fantastic but very utilitarian.

It's a tool, where this still feels a little bit like a craftsman made it. Yeah. Absolutely. And that lends to the collectability of these guns. This, this is a beautiful example still in the box with the vapor paper, that's, that is a collectible piece. And, most of the time when people think about collectible Smith and Wessons, they focus on the revolvers, right?

Cause that's been Smith's bread and butter for 150 years but there is a whole, Subgenre of Smith and Wesson collectors that are into the semi autos and Alan you mentioned, the third gen stuff those are seeing a resurgence In the prices that those are bringing on the collector market And I know we see guys like in the Smith and Wesson forums talking about the third gen guns and that's Even 10 years ago, we weren't seeing guys talking about those guns in a serious collector manner.

A decade ago, they were in the surplus market. They were the last autoloaders that a lot of law enforcement had adopted before going strike or fire. Those [00:13:00] inventories were moving out of the markets and they were... Yeah, dirt cheap. Yeah. Yeah. And that is just not the case anymore.

We're, sure you can find some sleeper deals here and there in auctions on Gumburger, but invariably the prices on those guns have gone up. And it's interesting because, we, tend to think about it. Oh they were products of the eighties. It was just yesterday.

Really? Shit. That was 40 years ago. The eighties are back. We're seeing it in fashion, seen in music. We're seeing in movies. We're seeing it in firearms as well. I We're talking about the 5906, a classic third gen gun. I've got a couple at home that, again, they were State Patrol trade ins.

They were surplus guns. I think we paid 250 for them. Yep. Now I took a look on GunBroker this morning that basic gun. Nothing special, a couple of magazines maybe a box, maybe not, a thousand dollars is where they're moving. If you're lucky enough to have something, the performance center is tuned up, which that's something we haven't talked really about at all, Smith's performance center 2, 500.

Yeah. [00:14:00] Wow. So they went from, in a decade going from, surplus that you bought just because it was there and interesting to, a. kind of a hot collectible item right now. Yeah. Even on the collector side, I mean you see that spike, but I think we've even seen it just for demand for products in the new space, but to reintroduce a lot of these into manufacturing.

And so it's not just there. I think The industry as a whole has been hit with that nostalgia bump, and we've seen it roll into almost that 80s scene. So products that we've made back then, people are asking for us to reintroduce them and stuff. So it, we're seeing it across the spectrum of people.

It's the people who are super intimate to when we first developed those products, and now it's a new generation of gun owners who are just coming into the space and they're like, wow, that looks really cool. And they appreciate the manufacturing and the craftsmanship behind those products.

And it's different than what's available today. And, I don't want to speak ill, but you walk into a gun store and it's a sea of black polymer products. And I think a lot of people [00:15:00] are saying, Hey, give me something a little bit different now. I've got an EDC, I've got a home defense now.

me actually get into a little bit of a different taste in products. And so something that I find something that's looking at, yeah, something makes me stand out a little bit at the range where it's not the same thing everybody's got. And I think the other thing worth mentioning is, you can take some of these auto loading pistols from the sixties and seventies and still do good work with them, whether you're target shooting or self defense or whatever.

There's still, I've run all sorts of nine millimeter ammo through that and it. It just eats everything. Yeah. So yeah, there's something it's different. It's a different feeling when you're holding a gun like that versus, like a 2. 0 or something. And I love my new pistols.

I love my striker fires. But sometimes I'm in the mood for that. Yeah, there's a place at the table for them all. Yeah, no, it's just They're different, the different courses of the meal, right? Just keep buying. You guys need people to keep buying because Smith Wesson is is right on the precipice of something that [00:16:00] is really special.

That, that has been a couple of years in the making now. And. For those that don't know, Smith and Wesson made a big departure after a hundred and almost 160 years in Springfield, Massachusetts, they have relocated to Maryville, Tennessee brand new factory there. Vince, talk to us about what's going on with the move and what's coming next.

Yeah, it wasn't was not an easy decision by the leadership team for sure. But a lot went into it. And I think, during the decision making process, there was a. a ton of different candidates and the way they vetted them was looking out for employees and looking out for the future of the company.

What kind of a talent pool is available for the people that we can pull from and start to build the culture in Smith and Wesson and foster, more innovation and just a better fit for the company as a whole. What state would be supportive of the second amendment? That's where We're steadfast in our position to, to remain true to the Second Amendment.

[00:17:00] Tennessee is a state that's basically given constitutional carry and super Second Amendment sanctuary state. For us, it's been super welcoming. We're set to open. Grand opening party is October 7th. That's just this Saturday. Yeah. Yeah. It's it's pretty wild.

It's going to be exciting. I think when we sold the tickets, we sold out almost within a day. Wow. Yeah, it was. It meant that's just the response from the community. And the people that are so happy to see Smith and Wesson and part of that. So for us, we've got a facility that's going to have our distribution center out of it.

We have a plastics company that's going to come in house. And then we've got our front office. We still have some of the manufacturing processes like for revolver in 1911. So those are going to remain in Springfield. Part of that is, is the skilled labor around those products. Sure.

You've got People who have generations within their family who have been working on revolvers at Smith Wesson. That's the history there. It's an institutional knowledge. Yeah, it's just [00:18:00] something about the firearms industry that I see that at every manufacturer that there's two, three, four generations on the line out there in some cases.

Yeah, it's pretty impressive that and that's it. Smith Wesson's meant a lot to Massachusetts. I don't want to devalue that in any respect, we're super happy for what Tennessee is going to bring for us. And I think we're set to, to start actually assembling products at the end of October.

So those are when the maiden Merrillville, Tennessee will be found on the slides. And so that'll be pretty exciting for anybody looking to grab those. There's going to be a new collector's item. So what you're saying, Vince, is I get to come to the factory and put my own slide into this mirror, right off the line with me, right?

right into engraving, you can get your name on it. Yeah, I like it. Sounds great. Vince thinks I'm joking, but I'm gonna show, I'm gonna show up. Yeah. Knock on the door and be like, all so just do me a favor and misspell his name on the slide.

Now, Alfred, why would you do something like that? Vince mentioned something I want to [00:19:00] come back to. I've walked to the factory floor and seen the revolver manufacturing and the finishing, and it's actually amazing how hard it is. To finish a modern revolver and those guys really work their way up into that position.

You don't just come in off the street and start polishing a revolver. That's a position that you spend a lot of time working your way up into and it's, it was really remarkable and really eyeopening to to see how much work goes into that. Yeah, absolutely. It's skilled.

And it's going to be a rolling phase for us. We're not just going to all of a sudden one day pick up all of our assembly processes in Merrillville. So it's a phased approach. Yeah. Absolutely. But, I think I think, paying homage to some of the heritage in Springfield and what that means to us as a company, but then obviously embracing a lot of Tennessee is is great.

And I can say that the company and, we've got some new hires on the team that we've got there. Anecdotally, I had a position open in Springfield once upon a time. I think I had about 10 applicants for it. And then we had a more entry level position available in Tennessee. And I think we had over 500 within the [00:20:00] first week.

So that's the. That's how welcoming they are to our industry in particular. Tennessee is the patron state of shooting stuff, as a resident of Tennessee, I can attest to that. Yeah. And I think we talked about this last night at dinner. You were saying in Massachusetts, the culture is, I work for a sponsor.

boarding goods manufacturer, cause you're not sure how things are going to go politically. But, down in Tennessee, I work for Smith and Wesson, we like shooting stuff. Actually, a friend of mine has a really good way of putting that. She what she says is when you're in the gun industry, it's a bit like pornography almost.

Like it's legal, but you never quite sure how to introduce that into conversation. Yeah, I just go for it. Like people ask me, just jump in headfirst. Yeah, I do. Yeah. I just cuz I don't give a shit I'm a company of one. I don't have to worry about Marketing and HR stuff. No, I think if you're a company you want people to be proud of where they work to enjoy it and Be able to have the products, shoot them, enjoy [00:21:00] them and all the things that come with working from Smith and Wesson.

And I think at Tennessee, not only were we getting a ton of great candidates for positions, it's in a culture and a space where they can be proud to work there. Like it's almost. Just it's dangerous to wear branded clothing around Tennessee and Merrillville because I'm subject to get stopped and talked to for 30 minutes, which is a great excuse if I'm out in the wild and my wife's like, where are you?

And I was like, Oh, sorry, somebody. Got ahold of me and I like my M and P 2. 0, but if you need to make one in a 44, magnum, we're open to suggestions. You guys got some insights, some new products. I'll take those ideas, right? Put them in the comment section. We'll make sure to get them to vents, no matter how ridiculous they are, they'll end up in that drawer and engineering with all the weird and wacky, yeah.

Yeah. Oh, that's great. So how big is the new factory there? It's over 600, 000 square feet. I think it's [00:22:00] 625. And that's going to be, the backend and then the front office too. And how does that compare to what is up in Massachusetts? Oh I'm not 100 percent sure on the square footage of our mass one, but I can just say out of just the efficiency of the build is going to help us in a lot of senses.

It's if you take an aerial view of the mass facility, it's an H I think that was designed during the World Wars so that if one spot got hit, they could quarantine that zone and then continue to manufacture. But it's not great when we're trying to be efficient. We want that big open box open floor plan where we can move whatever we got to move at any given time and make sure that things are just moving real, real fast.

Just state of the art in terms of, the operation side and what we're putting into that, which is great because it's going to help us in the long run. And ultimately the goal is just to, we've been here for a long time. We want to. be here for a long time. Let's make it easier on ourselves [00:23:00] and let's let's create some really cool products and pump those out.

Yeah. I don't think it can be overestimated the benefit of having a space designed for your process, as opposed to trying to cram your process into an old space that. You're modernizing or just into a new space to, you've bought someone's old factory or something, being able to go in and, have your design engineers go, all right, this is the, this is our product flow.

This is where we need the materials coming in. This is where we need the test ranges. This is where we need, our QA area. Having that designed for that flow is going to be such a massive step up from your efficiency. It's going to be really fun to watch. Yeah, it's a huge consolidation too.

We've got a plastics company, but right now, it's in Connecticut, but we've moved it to Massachusetts to be under one roof. And, we've got our distribution center that, that was in Missouri and now we've moved it under one roof. So just even having access to all the arms that we have, and it's all in one building, it's going to help across the board.

Just makes for a much more cohesive, solid, product in the end. [00:24:00] Yeah. Cause that's the end goal. Yeah. Like ultimately you want to make all these chess moves to have better products at the end of the day and just make, cooler things and be innovative. I think, Mike's been awesome about going through the history of Smith and Wesson and there was a ton of innovation there.

And, we've gone through. Different periods and, with our M and P line, a little bit of a fast follower mentality for lack of a better term. And just, seeing what's around us and we can do that and make it better was one of the approaches of our old leadership team.

A couple of years ago we split from AOB, we're back pure play Smith Wesson firearms are our focus. That's us as a brand and we've said, okay, let's lean back into innovation. That was the roots of Smith Wesson. So let's embrace that and let's so hopefully what stems from that is some really cool products moving forward from Smith Wesson.

Awesome. Yeah, I know, like I said, as a resident of Tennessee, we're really excited to have you there. And I know from seeing the social media [00:25:00] comments, everyone's excited to have you there. So from one Tennessee into another, welcome to Tennessee. We're glad to have you guys. Congratulations on the grand opening that's coming up in a couple of days now.

I know it's going to be an absolute blast. Really looking forward to seeing Maryville on, on slides on the guns and so everybody go to. Go to gunbroker. com and grab your ones that are still marked Springfield mass before you can't, so we appreciate you guys all sitting around the table.

Alan, Vince, Mike appreciate you guys being here and talking to us about the future of Smith and Wesson. It's an exciting time and looking forward to another. 160 years. And we appreciate all of you tuning in, listening to the show, watching the show. If you're not subscribed on your favorite platform, please do that now would mean the world to us.

Leave us some comments and reviews. That also means a great deal to us. We appreciate you being here. And hopefully you enjoy the show as much as we do. So from all of us at no low ballers, thanks for tuning in and we will see you right [00:26:00] here. On the next episode.