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In 1852 partners, and formed a company to produce a lever-action nicknamed the "". The company became known as the "Volcanic Repeating Arms Company"; financial difficulties caused it to come into the majority ownership of investor . Previously, in the late 1840's, Daniel Wesson's brother Edwin, of Hartford, Massachusetts, had manufactured revolvers under the name of Wesson & Leavitt. After Edwin Wesson's death, that firm continued under the supervision of Thomas Warner. In 1856 the partners left the Volcanic Company to begin a new company and to manufacture a newly-designed revolver-and-cartridge combination. The timing of the founding of this new company proved quite opportune for the partners, since the onset of the five years later produced a great demand for Smith & Wesson's products. In 1964 the company passed from Wesson family control, and subsequently several conglomerates took control of it. Between 1987 and 2001 Smith & Wesson was owned by the British engineering company . Today, Smith & Wesson is the largest manufacturer of in the . The corporate headquarters is in .

S&W reached an agreement with to produce variations of the line of pistols. Branded as the , the pistol is available in several calibers, including 9 mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP, and in both full size and compact variations. Under the terms of the agreement, Walther produced the frames and Smith and Wesson produced the slide and barrel. The pistol has several cosmetic differences from the original Walther design and strongly resembles a hybrid between the P99 and the Sigma series.

The S&W 659 was part of the second generation of S&W semi-automatic pistols introduced in 1980 and was separated from 1st generation by introduction of the three digit model numbers and different frame materials. All 2nd generation semi-autos were built on modal 39 and 59 basis, with double stack magazines and traditional double action triggers with safety / decockers. Many 2nd generation handguns featured high profile sights with adjustable rear sight.