The History of Smith & Wesson Revolvers

The History of Smith & Wesson Revolvers

Smith & Wesson is one of the largest and most reputable revolver manufacturers on the market today, competing directly with Colt, Ruger, and Taurus

While the company makes virtually all kinds of firearms, their revolvers are arguably their most well-known firearms, having produced classics such as the Model 3 Schofield and the Model 29 .44 Magnum.

In this article, we’ll dive into a brief history of Smith & Wesson revolvers by providing an overview of their most notable models:


The Smith & Wesson Model 1 in .22 Short was Smith & Wesson’s first revolver, produced from 1857 to 1882. This compact revolver was produced in an era where cap-and-ball cartridge revolvers were standard issue. Still, the Model 1 with simple cartridges was more reliable and much easier to reload. 

It was very popular with civilians and soldiers alike due to its concealable size and ease of reloading, to the point where the demand was higher than production.


The Model 3 Schofield was Smith & Wesson’s most prominent revolver from the Old West. Chambered for a variety of cartridges, including .44 Russian, .44 Schofield, or .44-40 Winchester depending on the version, the Model 3 was notable for its top-break action. 

While less durable than the competing Colt M1873 and Remington 1875 revolvers, the Model 3 was much faster to reload and would eject all of the spent cartridges when swung open. It was also the favored sidearm of numerous famous lawmen and outlaws of the Old West; it’s believed that Wyatt Earp carried a Model 3 at a Schofield at the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. 


The Model 10 in .38 Special was released in 1899 with a new innovative swing-out cylinder with an ejector rod for ease of reloading. The Model 10 became one of Smith & Wesson’s most successful designs, with over 6 million manufactured. The .357 Magnum version of the Model 10 is known as the Model 13, with the stainless steel variants of the Models 10 and 13 being the 64 and 65 respectively. 


In the mid-1930s, Smith & Wesson developed the .357 Magnum round and a gun to go with it in the form of the Model 19 revolver. The 125-grain .357 Magnum round was designed to punch through bulletproof vests at 1,600 feet per second, as the .38 special rounds could be easily deflected. The .357 Magnum initiated the whole ‘Magnum’ craze in revolver rounds and is today considered a premium defensive round. 


In the 1950s, Smith & Wesson unveiled the Model 36 .38 Special revolver. This became the first of Smith & Wesson’s 5-shot J-frame snubnose revolvers. The lineup became one of the most successful series of concealed carry firearms in the United States by finding favor with law enforcement and civilians alike. 

Besides the original blued Model 36, the Model 60 was released later as a stainless steel version and later rechambered for .357 Magnum. The models 442 and 642 airweights are hammerless versions and are among the bestselling concealed carry handguns in the market today. Competing guns in the same category include the Colt Cobra, Taurus 85, Taurus 856, and the Ruger LCR.


The S&W Model 686 represented a development of the Model 19, being built on a much larger frame. While heavier and less concealable, it is easier to shoot, absorb recoil, and handle heavy, powerful loads. Today, the Model 686 competes directly with the Ruger GP100 and Taurus Model 66.


The Model 29 was introduced in 1955 for the .44 Magnum cartridge, which at the time was the most powerful handgun round in production (although it can also chamber and shoot the .44 Special). As a result of its use in the Dirty Harry movie, the Model 29 and the .44 Magnum became one of the most well-known guns of all time. Today, the Model 29 (and its successor the 629) compete with the Ruger Redhawk and Taurus Raging Bull.


The Model 500 is simply the most powerful production revolver out on the market today, firing the .500 S&W cartridge. The Model 500 is a massive revolver that can bring down any kind of dangerous big game on any continent, but also has massive recoil and is notoriously difficult to control in the hands of an inexperienced shooter. Nonetheless, there’s no question that the Model 500 represents the pinnacle of the Magnum-lineup of revolvers. 


Smith & Wesson remains one of the most prominent revolver makers to this day. The above revolver models help show the progression of Smith & Wesson’s history.