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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.
About the Author: The late Dan Shideler was a senior editor for Gun Digest Books from 2004 until 2011, best known for his entertaining prose and knowledge and insight into firearms history, trends and pricing. He served as editor of two of the industry's most respected annuals: Standard Catalog of Firearms and Gun Digest. Dan passed away in April 2011.
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