He brought pepperbox to its highest development
Born—Bellingham, Mass., Sept. 2. 1808 Died—Jan. 7, 1871
Although he was probably no relation of the famous Revolutionary War hero of the same name, Ethan Allen came from an old New England family, and all his business ventures were family affairs. His first partnership was with his brother-in-law Charles Thurber. Thomas P. Whee-lock of Allen & Wheclock was another brother-in-law. After Wheelock's death in 1864, 2 of Allen's sons-in-law, S. Forehand and H. C. Wadsworth, were admitted to the firm.
After leaving Bellingham, Allen first set himself up as a gunsmith in Grafton. There he formed the firm of Allen & Thurber, making pistols, especially pepperboxes. In 1842 the firm moved to Norwich, Conn., and in 1847 to Worcester. Mass. In 1856 Thurber retired, and the firm name was changed to Allen & Wheelock; then, after Wheelock's death, it became Ethan Allen & Co. in late 1864 or early 1865.
Allen was concerned with the manufacture of many different kinds of guns, including single-shot pistols, double-barrel pistols, and rifles, but it was his pepperboxes that brought him fame. Allen's first patent was granted in 1837 for a double-action lock. Actually this patent described a single-shot weapon, but as applied to a pepperbox a single pull on the trigger cocked the hammer, revolved the barrels, and fired the gun. It made the Allen pepperbox the fastest firing weapon of its day. For over a decade it was far better known and more popular than the Colt revolver. In 1845 Allen was granted a second patent covering an improved mechanism for rotating the barrels of a pepperbox and a device which would enable the gun to be fired either single- or double-action. By that time, however, the days of the pepperbox were numbered. Gradually the lighter and more accurate revolver supplanted it in popularity, and after Allen's death the firm dropped the pepperbox in favor of that weapon.
Ethan Allen's life spanned the entire percussion period. At the time of his death his firm was manufacturing a full line of cartridge guns. It had been a unique enterprise, too, in being the largest American 19th century arms manufactory catering entirely to the sporting trade and the citizenry of the country without ever having the support of a government contract for military arms.—Harold L. Peterson
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