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Immediately after the Civil War, in which bloody battles raged within eyeshot of the nation’s capitol, and previously quiet city streets ran red, America became a nation of concealed-carriers. Some gunmakers, such as Smith & Wesson, rode this wave of gun consciousness to enduring fame. Others did not.
Consider Forehand & Wadsworth.
The Stately American
Largely forgotten today, Forehand & Wadsworth was for a time one of the nation’s best-known manufacturers of small, concealable revolvers. In a market flooded with inexpensive pocket guns such as Avenger, Tramp’s Terror, Bang Up and Christian Protector, the guns of Forehand & Wadsworth managed to retain some respectability.
Some of that reputation undoubtedly derived from the stateliness of the brand name, which was faintly British and unmistakably confidence-building. I can hear it now: “Stand back, vile ruffian! I am protected by Forehand & Wadsworth!” Exit ruffian, stage left.
However, Forehand & Wadsworth was a true-blue American enterprise presided over by Sullivan Forehand, a bookkeeper with a knack for numbers, and Henry C. Wadsworth, a former officer in the Union army. These ambitious entrepreneurs rose to prominence in the firearms industry of the 1870s in a time-honored manner: They married the boss’s daughters. And in that case, the boss was Ethan Allen, one of America’s most visible arms makers.
Allen is not to be confused with the strong-willed Revolutionary War hero of the same name who compelled the British to surrender Fort Ticonderoga. This Ethan Allen was a pioneering gunmaker who opened his first shop in Grafton, Conn., in 1832. Allen’s guns were held in high regard, and about 1842, he entered a partnership with Charles Thurber. Their firm of Allen & Thurber relocated to the burgeoning metal-working city of Worcester, Mass., in 1847.
Thurber retired in 1856, and the company became known as Allen & Wheelock when Allen’s brother-in-law, T.P. Wheelock, joined what would become almost a dynasty of American gunmaking.