Every now and then, we see a design that appears wondrous, but end up wondering why it never really took off or ever soared. Sometimes, it’s the timing of the release, unique obsolescence, or it was the brainchild of one designer with input from his three weird friends. Other times, it’s just bad luck in the firearms market; too much competition, not enough advertising or not enough forethought.
Such is the case with the Dan Wesson revolver.
A little history
Daniel B. Wesson II was born in 1916 and was the great-grandson of one of the founders of Smith & Wesson (Daniel B. Wesson I). He carried on his family tradition and worked at Smith & Wesson from 1938 until 1963. With advanced degrees in Material Science and Metallurgy, he controlled the quality of Smith & Wesson’s production for many years.
After Smith & Wesson was acquired by Bangor-Punta Manufacturing, Wesson left the company to start another family-owned firearm manufacturing business in order to produce high quality, American made service-grade and competition revolvers. Five years later he incorporated Dan Wesson Arms in Monson, Massachusetts.
He tapped into the inventive mind of Karl Lewis, who had proposed the idea for modularly designed firearms while working for Browning Arms and High Standard. The revolvers that Dan Wesson produced were designed to allow the end user to change barrel length on his wheel gun in a matter of minutes.
Imagine owning a .357 Magnum revolver that could use an 8″ bbl for hunting, a 6″ bbl for competition shooting, a 4″ bbl for home defense and a 2″ bbl for concealed carry, while maintaining zero with each.
These new revolvers proved to be every bit as accurate as the company promised; however, they lacked the aesthetics of their competition. Even Ruger revolvers of the 1970s made the Dan Wesson look ugly.
The design was improved mostly for aesthetics, but some flaws in the designs were corrected as well. Using heat-treated, investment-cast 4140 chrome moly steel frames with a deep, highly polished blue finish, they proved to be superior in many ways to the competition.
Unfortunately, Wesson passed away in 1978 and the company was thrown into turmoil. His son Seth maintained control and continued forward with his father’s vision. However, the factory’s equipment was showing its age after only a decade and despite offering revolvers in calibers the competition wouldn’t touch like .445 Supermag and .357 Maximum, the company was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1990.
The company emerged from bankruptcy and relocated to Palmer, Massachusetts as Dan Wesson Firearms. During this period they delved into offering competition-ready revolvers with enhanced trigger and action jobs as well as optical sights, but in 1995 the company had to file bankruptcy again. This time, the Wesson family had to let it go.
Rob Serva bought the company and its assets and relocated them to Norwich, New York. At this time, the company shifted its focus to custom 1911 pistols. A decade later in 2005, beset with money problems, the company went up for sale and was purchased by the CZ USA, where it flourishes to this day.
Despite the troubles of the company, Dan Wesson produced what was probably the most accurate, rugged and versatile revolver of all time. Much of this had to do with the interchangeable tensioned barrel system that pulls the barrel tight like a guitar string, enabling it to vibrate at the same frequency every time. The forward crane latch, located in front of the cylinder and paired with a rear ball detent, helps to ensure proper cylinder/barrel alignment during firing. This is superior to the rear-locking designs of other revolvers and reminds us of the old time S&W Triple Lock revolvers of the early twentieth century, except the Dan Wesson revolver allows barrel changes without the use of a gunsmith’s services.
A Dan Wesson revolver may not be the best choice for self-defense, and in its day, wasn’t optimal for police work. Sure they were strong, accurate, reliable and could handle the harshest magnum powered loads, but they’re much slower to reload than other swing-out revolvers. The cylinder release is mounted on the crane and as S&W revolvers are unlatched by pushing the cylinder release forward, Colt by pulling it back and Ruger by pushing it in, Dan Wesson needs you to push down on a crane mounted release which requires two hands to open the revolver.
At a time when revolvers ruled the police and security market segments in America, these revolvers could not make headway. It’s a shame as they are a quality handgun in all other respects. They are still manufactured and available through CZ-USA, but their price keeps them on the higher end of the spectrum.
Mike Searson: Read more of his articles.
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