Otis Smith Revolvers

by Fred Ray on March 7, 2012 · 1 comment

The mystery of the revolver I posted about a couple of days ago has been solved! It was made by Otis A. Smith of Rockfall, CT, presumably sometime in the 1870s to 1880s. I took the gun down to the local range (On Target here in Asheville) and Jeff, the owner, quickly tracked it down on the internet.

Otis A. Smith

When I got home I found a nice article about Smith and his factory, which has recently been renovated into a residence.

After being empty for a few years, the old mill was torn down in 1845 and a new mill and dam was erected for manufacturing pistols. The principals in this factory were Henry and Nelson Aston, John North, Peter Ashton, and Sylvester Bailey, who secured contracts from the U. S. government for weapons. The company, using the mill, is credited with being the first company to mass produce guns with interchangeable parts.

From 1852 to 1879, Ira Johnson manufactured pistols here, until the factory burned to the ground on September 21, 1879.

Two years later, in 1881, Otis Smith built the 100 ft. long by 30 ft. wide portion of the current three-story brick building on the site. Otis Smith was born in Massachusetts to a Scottish immigrant father in 1836. Prior to 1880, he worked with Ira Johnson making pistols. After purchasing the mill, Smith patented his own designs for pistols and other hardware products, including planes (see photo). Otis Smith’s company, referred to as the U.S. Revolver Company and The Otis Smith Manufacturing Company at different times, made the world famous Smith Revolver that is considered one of the guns that “won the west.”

There is a photo of Smith himself and another one of his well-armed employees, plus some of their products (not all of which were firearms). Smith’s specialty seems to have been pocket revolvers, which he made under his own name and for others.

Although I have seen them denigrated as “suicide specials,” mine seems to be very well made. It’s marked “Smith’s Patent 1873” so he must have been making guns before taking over the factory. Smith’s pistols are not worth nearly as much on the collector’s market as rival Smith & Wesson’s–a Smith in excellent condition goes for about $500, or less than half of what a comparable S&W would be worth.

In short the Smith factory is a microcosm of the rise and fall of industrial New England.


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