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Handguns Revolvers

Ten Most Significant Smith & Wessons

by G&A Staff   |  June 14th, 2011 28

Technical Editor Dick Metcalf put together this photo array of the top 10 most significant Smith & Wesson handguns of all time. Some of his choices may surprise you.

Model 1, .22 Short (1857) — first revolver to shoot a self-contained cartridge.


Model 3, .44 & .45 Cal. (1870) — first American big-bore revolvers specifically manufactured for metallic cartridges.


.38 Double Action, .38 S&W (1880) — S&W’s first commercial double-action revolver.


.38 Hand Ejector, .38 S&W Special (1899) — first gun ever chambered for the .38 Special cartridge.


.44 Hand Ejector, .44 S&W Special (1908) — first gun chambered for .44 Special, nicknamed “Triple Lock,” set the stage for large-frame, big-bore revolvers to follow.


.22/32 Kit Gun, .22 Long Rifle (1911) — S&W’s first revolver to fire the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.


.357 Magnum, .357 Mag. (1935) — the original N-Frame .357 Magnum.


.38 Chiefs Special/Model 36, .38 Special (1950) — first S&W J-Frame revolver and first ultracompact .38 Special.


.357 Combat Magnum/Model 19, .357 Mag. (1955) — first medium-frame .357 Magnum.


Model 29/629, .44 Magnum (1956) — first .44 Magnum revolver and arguably the most famous S&W of all time.



  • Rusty

    I own one of the Last ,Highway Pattrole men ones to come off the line,,I got it from the cop who ,got it new,and carryed it for 30 years,,,its just as good looking now as the day it was mfged,,

  • T.D.

    Good article, but it should say most significant Smith & Wesson revolvers. That's because the S&W Model 3913 is one of the finest 9 mm pistols.

    Can't argue with Metcalf's selection except that the 642/442 beats the old Model 36 for concealability. And the Model 66 is better than the Model 19 only by the stainless steel finish.

  • Alvaro Casciani

    The only Smith&Wesson I still have in my gun safe (I had and sold at least 12 of their handguns before) it’s a Model 629 Mountain Gun .44 Magnum. I just cannot trade this one, no matter how much some friends insist on that…

  • Eddie

    Some great choices, but left off the ultimate combat and competition revolver, the 686 Distinguished Combat Magnum. Best shootin' iron ever!

    • Rich.

      Yea, I have one ,6" stainless in .357. Best handgun I own. Rich.

  • Bikersteve

    I proudly own several S&W's and my 629 Classic 6" is one SWEET piece! I agree that the 686 is also hard to beat. How about the 500 Magnum? Draws crowds whenever I take it to the range. Hits hard but is a lot of fun to shoot

  • R

    Yup, I own two of these, one is the no.1 rev 3 with the bird's eye grip and its in excellent shape.

  • kimbell

    fine guns, all made back when s&w took pride in their work.

  • Mick

    I'd have to add the Model 15 as well as the 686; I have one of each, the former my age (54) and still shooting fine, the latter one of the first off the line; had to have the hammer bushing mod done to make the company happy warranty-wise; 250k rounds later it's pretty slicked up!

  • Ed

    I miss a mention to the 'Distinguished' saga. There were good .357 Mag wheelguns before, with K and N frames, but M frame gave safety and stamina to using that caliber in affordable handguns

  • Phillip Martin

    I began a career in law enforcement 40 years ago when S&W revolvers ruled and we had to buy our own. Back then a good S&W with a trigger job was about as accurate as a guy could shoot. Perhaps the best and one I used for about ten years was the model 66 with a four inch barrel. We went to work with 18 cartridges and thought it enough. Today it is 45 cartridges but then we are shooting guns not nearly as accurate.

  • JoeBro

    I believe that the first .44 magnum revolver was actually the Ruger Blackhawk, the model 29 was the first double action…

    • http://? Barney Young

      Do some more research as Smith was first in a great race.



    • Alan_T

      Smith & Wesson was owned by a British holding company durring the Clinton fiasco . S & W was bought back quite awhile ago and is now entirely U . S . owned by staunch 2nd . Ammendment supporters .

  • M. Roberts

    Howie, Not to worry, New Blood is in charge @ S&W and they do like to sell citizens guns. MP-15s, Auto-Loaders and yes even Lawyer proof Revolvers. God Bless AMERICA

  • van

    I would have to say that two revolvers that deserve a spot on here have to be the newer extra large frame revolvers the .460 mag and .500 mag. The 460 because of it's extraordinary flat range with the .460 mag round and it's versitility with .45 LC and .454 cassul. The .500 on the other hand makes my top ten list simply for it's sheer power that is unmatched.

  • David MacCormack

    I have owned at one time or another almost every S&W revolver. From the K-22 with 8 3/8 barrel, to the Mod 29 4in 44 Magnum. and several of those "unreliable" 9mm that everyone talked about (Won a couple of Police Marksmanship trophies). S&W has down thru the years made some of the best quality, and some of the worst quality weapons ever known. The Leadership & Administration was the cause of the "Worst Quality" weapons.

    I own some 22, S&W Revolvers, and kick myself for letting go of the Semi-Automatics I had, as they worked to perfection. I also own weapons (Revolvers and Semi-Automatics), by other Mfgrs, and have no problem with most of them. If its a bad gun, it dont stay in my home long. I've had only one S&W revolver ever be a pain, and it was one some other ignorant individual, had fooled with inside, I sold it quickly.

    I refuse to buy any S&W revolver wearing a internal lock, as it ruins both the visual aspect of a fine weapon, and it never needed the damn thing before, did it? I guess I'm a helpless romantic that believes in Blued Steel, Walnut and the smell of Gun oil. A Good Handgun should feel like it is part of me, comforting, and comfortable to the holder. S&W has always done that with the varied weapons that they have produced thru the years. I will appreciate all that I am able to buy, before I leave them to my sons, and Grandsons, might even be a granddaughter, if my boys are lucky.

    • Mack Missiletoe

      Something I've learned, if you acquire a gun and it shoots reliably and accurate enough, keep it! One can buy even a brand new gun that may need more than a simple adjustment–it may need repair!

      • Alan_T

        Amen Mack !

    • mike

      Did you just retype some hack gunwriters column and sign your name to it ? I mean really you just repeated every thing that's ever been said over the last 50 years. Try an original thought once in a while, don't just repeat what others say hoping you'll sound intelligent, OK !

  • Timothy Mayfield

    Don't forget the the model 60, First stainless steel S&W.

    • Mack Missiletoe

      I shot my Model 60-15 3" today. My first time shooting .38 Special and .357 Magnum. Sweet gun! I love the 3" barrel and adjustable sights. Sure beats fumbling with magazines! Accurate at 15 yards. And one could easily reload .38 Special or .357 with the proper Classic Lee Loader –for cheap.

      I'm sure with more practice and proper sight adjustment I can accurately hit targets at much further ranges. Shooting a bit slower, of course :D

  • Thomas Deal

    I haven't heard anyone metion the model 14 ! I think that was a pretty nice piece.All in all smith and wesson revolvers are the only revolvers in my safe !

  • C W

    What no M&P!?! No model 10!?! No model 25/625!?! Really…..?

    • mike

      They were listing the best, not second best.

  • Mack Missiletoe

    The .38 Hand Ejector has some nice classic lines without that ejector rod shroud. I could make that 32 .22LR Kit Gun my best friend–easily one of the best looking .22 pistols ever! Definitely best looking .22LR DA revolver.

  • mike

    It's incredible how many of you have one of the very first, or very last made of any given revolver, and how after XXX years it's still in the box in perfect shape. that tells me you guys don't shoot, but try to impress people with your "things" !

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