Here's the history of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker as best I understand it. If you have additional information to share on this topic, please send it along by e-mail.
Click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Model 1880 & 2880
In 1981, Weber introduced two Smokey Mountain Cookers: The Model 1880 14-1/2" cooker and the Model 2880 18-1/2" cooker (Photo 1). According to a 1983 Washington Post article about smokers, the Model 1880 sold for about $100 and the Model 2880 sold for about $120.
According to Erich Schlosser, Senior Project Engineer for Weber R&D and inventor of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker (Photo 2), the inspiration behind the WSM was his boyhood memories of his German father cold-smoking meat. However, the smoker Erich wanted to create would be a hot-smoker, not a cold-smoker.
Unfortunately, there was no budget at the time to build a smoker from scratch, so Erich cobbled together a prototype using existing parts from other Weber grills. For the 18-1/2" WSM lid and charcoal bowl, he used two charcoal bowls from the 18-1/2" kettle grill. For the water pan, he used the lid from a Smokey Joe. The door knob and latch were "off-the-shelf" parts from the local hardware store. The only pieces that had to be specially fabricated were the bottom cooking grate, the charcoal grate and charcoal chamber, and the door, legs, and grill straps.
Somehow, Erich convinced Weber to bring these "Frankensteined" cookers to market in 1981.
The smaller Model 1880 was discontinued in 1983. "I don't think the marketing folks promoted it very well," said Erich.
The story of these early cookers was discussed further by Weber Executive VP and CMO Mike Kempster, in a blog post about the reintroduction of the 14.5" Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker that appeared on Weber.com in January, 2014. Mike writes:
Model 1880 In Detail
I was fortunate enough to find a Model 1880 in pristine condition in Southern California in 2004. Here are some photos of this pint-sized WSM.
Photo 3 shows the top cooking grate. Note that it does not have handles.
Photo 4 shows the water pan. Notice the wide, flat rim, followed by near-vertical walls, then a gently sloping bottom that terminates in a flat, 3" circle at the center of the bottom of the pan. The flat rim and tight fit against the grill straps results in a very stable water pan.
Photo 5 shows the charcoal chamber and charcoal grate. The chamber is made of the same material as today's cooker, but is smaller in diameter. The charcoal grate is not only smaller in diameter, but made of smaller gauge metal stock than the current grate.
Photo 6 shows the wooden lid handle with the Weber logo is stamped into the wood.
Photo 7 shows the letter "C" on the charcoal bowl damper, indicating that this bowl was manufactured in 1981. Photo 8 shows the letter "E" on the lid damper, indicating that this lid was manufactured in 1983. (It's not clear why this cooker has a mismatched lid and bowl.) See Determining The Age Of Your WSM for more information on Weber's lettering scheme.
The dampers on the 1880 are made of aluminum and are stamped with a series of lines between the vent holes. The dampers are attached using the same tubular aluminum rivets as in today's WSM.
Photo 9 shows the access door. It is made of nickel-chromium plated steel and is much heavier than today's aluminum door. The door has a smooth finish, but it sports the same "H" pattern stamped into the door like today's door, which helps it retain its shape.
The 1880's legs are made of the same nickel-chromium plated steel as the access door. Although these legs are sturdy, they apparently had a tendency to rust (like the access door) and were eventually replaced with aluminum parts.
Comparing The 1880 & 2880
Photo 10 shows the 1880's top cooking grate placed over that of the 2880.
Photos 11-12 compare the 1880's water pan with that of the 2880.
Photo 13 shows the difference in size between the 1880's charcoal chamber and that of the 2880
Photo 14 shows the 1880's charcoal grate placed over that of the 2880.
Here are the detailed measurements comparing the 1880 with the 2880:
A copy of the Model 1880 assembly instructions and parts list can be downloaded from the Owner's Manuals page.
If you have additional information about the Model 1880 (for example, the original retail price, interesting stories, etc.), please send it in and I'll consider including it here.
At some point the Model 2880 cooker was renamed Model 2890 (Photo 15) and was known by this model number as recently as 1999.
In 2000, the cooker was renamed Model 2820, coinciding with the lid handle change from wood to nylon (Photos 16-17).
One way of differentiating older WSMs from newer ones is by the lid handle. The Model 1880 and Model 2880 had teak lid handles with the Weber logo stamped into the wood. Some years later, Weber switched to an unknown species of wood that was stained to resemble teak, and they continued to stamp the Weber logo into the handle.
In 2000, Weber discontinued wooden handles and began using gray, heat-resistant nylon handles with the Weber logo stenciled on it.
Models 721001 And 731001
In October 2008, Weber announced the improved Model 721001 18-1/2" cooker and the larger Model 731001 22-1/2" cooker.
Improvements to the Model 721001 18-1/2" cooker included:
The Model 731001 22-1/2" cooker included all of the features of the Model 721001 18-1/2" cooker listed above, plus:
Comparing The 721001 And 731001
Photo 19 shows the 721001's top cooking grate placed over that of the 731001.
Photo 20 shows the 721001's bottom cooking grate placed over that of the 731001.
Photos 21-23 compare the 721001's charcoal chamber with that of the 731001.
Here are the detailed measurements comparing the 721001 with the 731001:
Smokey Mountain Cooker logo: Copyright 1981, Weber-Stephen Products Co.