Smithsonian firearms

Current Exhibition:

Journeying West: Distinctive Firearms from the Smithsonian

May 4, 2013 – fall 2015
Lower level, Cody Firearms Museum

In 1876, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History established the National Firearms Collection in honor of the American Centennial. Since then, it has grown to nearly 7,000 artifacts. And dozens of these historically significant firearms are now on display here at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Thomas Jefferson's North African Miquelet Jezail (musket), 1789. L.373.2012.11

Thomas Jefferson’s North African Miquelet Jezail (musket). Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. L.373.2012.11

We are proud to announce the journey westward of sixty-four unique firearms from the National Museum of American History’s National Firearms Collection—including four national treasures.

The special exhibition featuring these unique firearms opened to the public in May 2013. Among them are numerous patent models documenting innovations in the field, international imagination, and historic distinction. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West was entrusted with the conservation of these firearms and is honored to display them at the Cody Firearms Museum.

Closeup of firing mechanism of Catherine the Great's Russian Jaeger flintlock rifle, c. 1730. L.373.2012.52

Closeup of firing mechanism of Catherine the Great’s Russian Jaeger flintlock rifle, c. 1730. L.373.2012.52

Catherine the Great's Russian Jaeger flintlock rifle embellished with her name, c. 1730. L.373.2012.52

Catherine the Great’s Russian Jaeger flintlock rifle embellished with her name, c. 1730. L.373.2012.52

Included in this exhibition is a seven-foot-long gold Miquelet lock musket (see image above) that was given to President Thomas Jefferson in 1805 by the Bey of Tunisia after the Tripolitan Wars. Made in 1789 by maker Muhammad of Montenegro, this extravagant firearm is often considered a national treasure.

Another firearm so selected is a beautifully embellished Jaeger rifle that belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia (1729 – 1796). A velvet cheek piece added to this firearm ensured her imperial face would not touch the stock.

In the category of patent innovation is a western cinematic favorite, the Gatling gun. Before inventor Richard Gatling could make his invention a reality, he first created a miniature wooden prototype to submit to the U.S. Patent Office—on display with this collection.

The patent for the Gatling gun was approved in 1862, allowing for the production of the full scale Gatling guns, examples of which can be seen throughout the Cody Firearms Museum.

Gatling Gun patent model, patented November 4, 1862. L.373.2012.51

Gatling Gun patent model, patented November 4, 1862. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. L.373.2012.51

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Smithsonian Institution invite visitors to explore these firearms that have helped shape our nation and beyond. Both institutions hope that individuals will allow this exhibition to mold their own experiences and conceptions of firearms from invention to production, and then to their roles in the development of our nation. This exhibition is currently on view in the Cody Firearms Museum’s lower gallery, and will be on display through fall 2015.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

Read the news release.