The Model 1840 Non-commissioned Officers' Sword was based on a German version of the infantry sword used by British troops during the Napoleonic Wars. In August of 1840, the United States Army Ordnance Department contracted with Schnitzler & Kirschbaum ( S&K ) of Solingen, Prussia for 1000 swords of this pattern. Later, N.P. Ames Manufacturing Company of Cabotville received their first contract in 1844 to make this sword, followed by Ames Manufacturing Company of Cabotville (1847), then by Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicoppee , Mass in the 1850s.
The Model 1840 Army NCO sword was worn and saw front line service by American sergeants during such great conflicts as the Mexican-American War (1846 - 1848), the Civil War (1861 - 1865), and the Spanish American War (1898). A shorter version with a 26 inch blade (the typical 1840 Army NCO sword sports a 31 inch blade) was carried by musicians, and thus was called the Model 1840 Musician's sword. NCO's of shorter stature and cadets also carried this variant. Other ranks allowed to carry it included Sergeant Major, Quartermaster, Ordnance Sergeant, Hospital Steward, Corporal and Pioneer (Combat Engineer).
Many of the Model 1840 Army NCO swords manufactured by the primary contractor, the Ames Manufacturing Company, were very badly manufactured with a blunt edge, but they still proved effective in combat, as the sword could be used like an iron club to break bones. The 1840 Army NCO sword was the main weapon of standard bearers and hospital stewards, as well as a secondary weapon for infantry NCO's. The sword was also used by the Confederates who captured many after seizing state arsenals.
The M1840 (1840 Army NCO sword) has had a long service life. In 1868 the United States Army ordnance board recommended that no more leather sword or bayonet scabbards be purchased. (the sword was originally was equipped with a leather scabbard), so after the leather ones were used up, a black Japanned steel scabbard was substituted along with a new pattern leather frog. The 1840 Army NCO sword remained in service as a ceremonial weapon until general orders No. 77 dated August 6, 1875 discontinued its use. A modern version of this sword with steel scabbard is currently permitted for wear by US Army platoon sergeants and first sergeants (Army Field Manual FM 3-21.5)
U.S. Marine officers and NCOs have carried swords since the American Revolutionary War. During the earliest years, the swords worn by Marine NCOs are believed to have been based on Army patterns, though not necessarily the exact swords used by Army NCOs. By approximately the mid-1820s, however, Marine NCOs began wearing distinctive short sabers with cast brass eagle head hilts and curved blades. About this same time, in 1826, Marine Corps officers also began wearing a distinctive new sword of the Mameluke style, similar to those worn today.
In 1859, a completely new sword pattern was introduced for Marine Corps officers, who were instructed to wear the same sword then worn by Army foot officers since 1850. In addition, in 1859 a similar sword was authorized for wear by Marine NCOs, so that the swords worn by Marine officers and NCOs appeared to share very nearly the same pattern and characteristics. The Marine NCO version, though similar to that worn by Marine officers, had several differences. Among the most noticeable, NCO swords had plain brass hilts and scabbard mounts, whereas officers’ hilts and scabbard mounts normally were gilt. In addition, the grips on NCO swords were wrapped with leather, whereas those for officers were usually covered with sharkskin. Finally, NCO scabbards had only two scabbard mounts, consisting of a top mount with frog stud and a scabbard tip, whereas officers’ scabbards bore three mounts, including upper and middle mounts fitted with carrying rings.
The sword worn by Marine NCOs since 1859 was also carried throughout the American Civil War. With only slight modifications since that time, it has maintained its distinctive and traditional appearance. Even though the Navy Officer Sword is older, 1852, it was discontinued until reauthorized during the (1900s) the M1859 Marine NCO sword is the oldest weapon in continued (unbroken) service still in U.S. inventory.
Marine Corps Commandant Archibald Henderson adopted the Mameluke sword in 1825 for wear by Marine officers. After initial distribution in 1826, Mameluke swords have been worn except for the years 1859-75 (when Marine officers were required to wear the U.S. Model 1850 Army foot officers' sword), and a brief period when swords were suspended during World War II. Since that time, Mameluke swords have been worn by Marine officers in a continuing tradition to the present day.