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guide to s&w handguns

Smith and Wessons For CCW

One of the oldest and most venerated names in handguns - in America at least - is Smith and Wesson. For more than a century, they've been one of the leading designers and manufacturers of handguns and is still one of the most popular today.

Today's S&W pistols are diverse, offering something for everyone from the recreational to competitive shooter, concealed carrier, law enforcement and the serious handgun hunter. Both S&W revolvers and S&W semi-autos have long track records of excellence in both law enforcement service and other roles, so the person considering a new CCW gun would do well to take a good look at them.

History of Smith and Wesson Handguns

history of smith and wesson

The history of Smith and Wesson starts with two men and a dream - Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson. They got their start in 1852, forming a partnership with the idea to develop the Volcanic Repeating Rifle (a lever-action, tube-fed rifle...you may guess where this goes) and it's ammunition - then called Rocket Ball - an early cartridge design, both developed by Walter Hunt, a very successful inventor in his day. (Among Hunt's other inventions were the sewing machine and the safety pin.) By 1855 they had set up shop as the Volcanic Repeating Arms company and were also producing improved ammunition. Smith left the company around this time, but Wesson stayed on.

Volcanic was eventually bought out by Oliver Winchester, an investor in that company. The design was refined and the name changed to - you might have guessed it - the Winchester repeating rifle.

Wesson re-connected with Smith in 1856 and they decided to mate the revolver to the early cartridge ammunition they had developed. To do it, they needed to license a patent for a bored-through cylinder from one Rollin White, which they did, and by 1857, the rejuvenated Smith and Wesson Co. began producing the Model 1, a single-action barrel-break revolver in .22 Short. Thus began a long tradition of S&W revolvers.

The Model 3, a single-action top-break, followed in 1868 and stayed in production until the early 20th Century. Contrary to popular myth, Wyatt Earp didn't carry a "Buntline" Colt during his time in Tombstone, Ariz.; it was a Model 3. The pistol can still be had today from reproduction firearms makers.

In the 1890s, single-action designs gave way to double action, and around this time S&W released arguably the most important gun in it's history, the Model 10. Initially dubbed the 1898 Hand Ejector and later the Military and Police, it found wide adoption among police, military forces and civilians. Production has never ceased.

The first of the N-frame revolvers, the .44 Hand Ejector "Triple-Lock," followed in 1908, then followed by the Model 13/Model 35 of 1913, S&W's first semi-auto pistol, which wasn't successful. During this time, the first of the Lady Smith revolvers appeared. The initial models were small caliber pistols - often in .22 caliber - marketed to women, though later Lady Smith have been versions of standard models optimized for female shooters.

Smith and Wesson was quick to cash in on the magnum craze that began in the 1930s, producing some of the first .357 Magnum pistols such as the Registered Magnum in .357 (today the Model 27) and in 1955, the Model 29 in .44 Magnum, the first pistol produced for that caliber.

In the 1950s, S&W also released the Chief's Special, today known as the Model 36, the first snub-nose revolver on S&W's J-frame architecture. By the close of that decade, S&W would follow up with the first domestically-produced 9mm auto, the Model 39.

Other S&W autos would follow, such as the Model 52 in 1961 - one of the few autos chambered for .38 Special - and the Model 59 in 1971. The Model 39/Model 59 architecture, double/single action with a Walther-inspired slide-mounted decocker/safety, would serve as the basis for all Smith and Wesson autos until the early 2000s. The models changed over the years, as the Model 39 and 59 were superseded by a three-digit nomenclature in the 1980s and four-digit model numbers in the 1990s.

S&W Into The 21st Century

smith and wesson pistol

In the late 1990s, S&W moved to the polymer-frame, striker-fired design that has become the industry standard with the Sigma platform of pistols. They received a lukewarm reception and a lawsuit from Glock, which resulted in S&W having to pay royalties for every Sigma pistol sold. Eventually, the Sigma line was discontinued though it lives on somewhat through the SD VE pistols currently available.

S&W innovated further in large revolvers, releasing the .460 S&W Magnum and .500 S&W Magnum in their X-frame revolver line. The latter is famous for the most powerful handgun round in the world, which has led many to buy one to experience the power...only to sell the gun after one or two trips to the range.

In 2005, S&W released the first of the M&P pistols, a line of poly striker guns that became insanely popular in short order and have remained so ever since. Despite complaints of the first-generation triggers being "gritty" the M&P line has become one of the most popular pistols for law enforcement and civilian use. The compact and the sub-compact M&P Shield are wildly popular concealed carry guns, with many reckoning the M&P Shield being close to the perfect CCW pistol.

Smith and Wesson is more or less the first name in American handgun makers, and they are likely to remain so for years to come.

Smith and Wesson Concealed Carry Revolvers To Look For

s&w revolvers

Smith and Wesson concealed carry revolvers are the first name in the business for that purpose. Plenty of companies make snubbies, but S&W is considered by many to be first among equals. Of other companies that make compact wheelguns, perhaps only Colt and Ruger match S&W in regards to the quality of their small revolvers.

The legacy of Smith and Wesson concealed carry stretches to the 19th century, as pistols suited to the task have been made by the company since the Model 1, Model 1 ½ and Model 2 were produced prior to 1880. Other models followed of course, but by the 1950s S&W had created one of THE standard carry revolvers: the J-frame.

The original J-frame, the Chief's Special (later re-branded the Model 36) is still sold today, packing 5 shots of .38 Special and a 1.8-inch barrel. Other J-frame revolvers that are popular for use as a concealed carry pistol or backup gun for law enforcement include the Model 638, which has a shrouded hammer for easy drawing, the hammerless DAO Model 642, and snub .357 pistols like the Model 60 and Model 649.

Concealed Carry Autos By Smith And Wesson

smith and wesson concealed carry auto

Smith and Wesson's first semi-auto - the Model 13 - was released in the early 20th century, but it took some time before their concealed carry autos became widely used and adopted.

In it's day, the Model 39 found some acceptance as a concealed carry pistol. Though the 39 was often used as a service pistol, it's a single-stack auto that's somewhat smaller than modern service pistols in that chambering - fitting somewhere between a full-size and a compact. As a result, a few people out there still concealed carry a Model 39. Sufficient parts are still available to keep one in good working order and there are plenty of 39s new-in-box or in like-new condition to this day.

S&W did make a number of compact and sub-compact autos during the three- and four-digit nomenclature years, including compact .45 pistols such as the Model 457 and 4516, the 6904 and 6906 and Model 469. These models were all based on S&W's double/single action system. While viable, these pistols are older as the last of them were produced in the early 2000s.

In 1994, S&W introduced the Sigma series of pistols, a line of poly striker pistols. Initially, the lineup included the SW9M and SW380M, single-stack compacts in 9mm and .380, respectively, though they weren't especially long-lived in production.

S&W's SD series succeeded the Sigmas in the early 2000s, and are still being made - the SD 9VE and SD 40VE still being available and for a bargain. Neither pistol commands more than $400 in sticker. Despite being larger than most CCW pistols (barrel length is 4 inches) the slim(ish) dimensions (for a double-stack) and low cost make them a serviceable CCW gun.

S&W's SW1911 series, being 1911 pistols, are well-regarded. Though they are costly compared to some 1911s (and other S&W pistols as well) both Officer and Commander frames are offered.

However, the reigning kings of S&W's CCW pistols are those from the M&P lineup. The M&P Compact, offered in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP (earlier in .357 Sig as well) is a very popular concealed carry pistol, with the 9mm version being the most popular.

The M&P Bodyguard 380, formerly the Bodyguard, is also a highly popular micropistol, for those that prefer the smallest of guns for EDC.

The M&P Shield, however, is arguably THE concealed carry gun of the past few years. The Shield is a slim, single-stack subcompact, widely hailed for being one of the easiest of it's type to shoot for almost any shooter, despite the small dimensions. The light weight and compact dimensions also make it a fantastically easy pistol to conceal as well. The reasonable purchase price (MSRP is less than $500, but in-store it goes for closer to $400 or less) also makes it easily acquired. Nearly every gun store in the nation stocks them.

Between the J-frame revolvers and the compact M&P pistols, S&W has established themselves as one of THE go-to gun makers for concealed carry.

Smith And Wesson News And Rumors

smith and wesson news and rumors

The most recent Smith and Wesson news was regarding the M&P line, as the M&P 2.0 hit the rumor mill and store shelves between the end of summer 2016 and Christmas. The 2.0 is a number of refinements to the M&P full-size pistol, including an updated slide and revised trigger. In essence, it's a mid-cycle facelift much like with cars. It isn't a new model, just a few improvements.

Additionally, the Shield .45 was released that year, adding a big-bore option in that model lineup.

For the moment, Smith and Wesson is one of the dominant handgun makers on the market and is likely to remain so for some time to come.

Sam Hoober

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.