Lucius Pond

Lucius Pond

The guns of Lucius Willson Pond pop up on the market from time to time, and they receive some attention because of Pond’s affiliation to Smith & Wesson (specifically, through his violation of Rollin White’s patent). Throughout my research I realized that there is no really good biography of Lucius. Here’s a summary of my research on this interesting man.

Lucius was born on April 20, 1826 in Hubbardston, Massachusetts. The oldest of six children, Lucius’ childhood was punctuated by his father’s death in 1835. Lucius began his career as a machinist when he moved to Worcester, Massachusetts in 1846 to work under Samuel Flagg, who by this time was well established as one of Worcester’s most esteemed machinists.

An advertisement for Samuel Flagg & Co., from the August 11, 1852 edition of the Worcester Spy.

A quick learner and a hard worker, Lucius succeeded Samuel Flagg and took over the business in 1857, which continued under his name. Sometime around 1862 he built a much larger machine shop at the corner of Exchange and Union Streets in Worcester (on the current site of Saint Vincent Hospital), where he continued to produce a variety of machine tools, and where he also did a wide variety of contract machining.

Besides firearms (which I’ll get to in a bit), Lucius’ shop produced a wide variety of goods including this railroad ticket punch that was patented by Cyrus Holden. Known for high quality workmanship, Pond’s shop executed designs with a level of accuracy and precision that remain impressive to this day.

A railroad ticket punch manufactured in Lucius Pond’s machine shop, circa 1868.

As you may already know, Smith & Wesson’s exclusive license of Rollin White’s patent prevented White from licensing it to anyone else. Smith & Wesson were too busy making a fortune off of the Model 1 to have any interest in sub licensing the patent, and the result was their virtual monopoly on the firearms industry from the late 1850’s through the late 1860’s. Lots of established gun manufacturers, and plenty of aspirational gunmakers (like Lucius Pond) sought ways to either evade White’s patent. Lacking any good ideas there, some threw caution to the wind and made guns in flagrant violation. Lucius was one such manufacturer.

His first gun was the “belt revolver;” a sturdy, no-nonsense top hinge gun that was, in most regards, technically superior to Smith & Wesson’s Model 1. The hinge was far more robust, the latch mechanism was positive and secure, and having the cylinder attached to the gun meant that there were no bits and pieces to get lost.

Pond’s business was caught in one of the many legal tangles that Rollin White was contractually obligated to wage, and many of the belt revolvers were surrendered to Smith & Wesson, who promptly roll marked the barrel and sold them.

Lucius then came up with one of his more clever designs: a gun that shot cartridge ammunition, but that didn’t have a bored through cylinder.

The front-load revolver, as it is rather inelegantly referred to by collectors, was the most convoluted workaround to Smith & Wesson’s utterly simple Model 1. Using a series of cylinder sleeves and a hinged extractor rod, the gun could be unloaded and loaded carefully, in broad daylight, with plenty of patience, and with a lot of luck. Not only did the front load revolver introduce a high degree of complexity, but its operation was neither intuitive nor practical.

The only problem the front load revolver solved was how to continue producing guns in the wake of the Rollin White patent lawsuit victories. Thankfully for Rollin White, the Civil War had created enough of a market for guns that these improbably ridiculous guns managed to sell.

Regardless of whether Pond’s guns were practical (as the belt revolver was) or not (cue the front-loading revolver), Pond continued to manufacture machine tools, and to do other contract manufacturing. Elected as the alderman of Ward 2 of Worcester for a time, Pond gave all appearances of being a model citizen.

And so he was, until he wasn’t. If you’d ever heard of Frank Abagnale (popularized by the movie Catch Me If You Can), then you’ll have some idea of where this story is going.

When business started to dry up in the early 1870’s, Lucius started to remove the date and dollar amounts from legitimate (and endorsed) checks in his possession. He would replace those with more recent dates and larger dollar amounts, and cash them. Some people estimated that he swindled upward of $100,000 (at a time when $10 would buy a high quality Smith & Wesson revolver).

In early October of 1875, Lucius disappeared. Detectives hired to track him down learned that he had gone to Hamilton, Ontario by way of New York state, where he stayed for a few weeks before heading to San Francisco. Lucius was arrested shortly before boarding a ship to Australia, where he would almost certainly have been able to disappear.

Lucius served seven years of a fifteen year prison sentence in the state prison in Concord, Massachusetts. During this time he managed to cultivate a good deal of public sympathy, and Governor John Davis Long granted Lucius a pardon.

Lucius spent his remaining years in Worcester and died in 1889.

Lucius’ son, David W. Pond, continued the family business for several years until he left the business (some accounts have him being forced out by a “reorganization”). David committed suicide in 1897 by shooting himself in the head as he lay in bed, and it was rumored that—like his father—he had fallen into hard financial times.

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Pond’s machine shop was folded into the company that was, for many years, known as the Niles-Bement-Pond Company, which I believe was eventually merged into Pratt & Whitney.