It can be straightforward to forget (or never know in the very first place) the as much as turn-of-the-20th-century handgunning in America went, the .38 one-of-a-kind was the sexty ticket in town. As the world transitioned indigenous black-powder cartridges come the new smokeless rounds such as Smith & Wesson’s “Special,” men like john Browning and Elmer Keith started designing brand-new cartridges and projectiles specifically tailored come this new propellant. Performance increased drastically, and every one of a sudden, a bare-lead, round-nosed slug ambling follow me at 650 feet per second was as cutting-edge together a powdered wig as much as the cool kids were concerned.

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GRANDSON of A GUN: The .38 one-of-a-kind Smith & Wesson 442 Airweight is a straight descendant that the smith & Wesson Centennial.

But firearms last for a lengthy time. What to be a male to do, sell all of his favourite firearms and also replace them v the brand-new smokeless-charged models? maybe if he to be Teddy Roosevelt, however everyone else was probably going to have to make execute with what he had actually — at the very least until he could get come T.R.’s garage sale.

It’s the tiny Things in Life

The .38 S&W wasn’t a powerhouse as soon as it was an initial released in 1877, but in the defense, that was never the intent. The selling point was no its power however rather just how well that paired v small, quickly concealed revolvers of the day.


Michael Janich’s well-used smith & Wesson Airweight, put on a custom finish and a collection of Crimson map Lasergrips.

The .38 Special exceeded it by the end of the 19th century. By the early on 1900s, Browning’s .45 ACP downright walloped it. The .38 Super and also .357 Magnum ongoing to embarrass the .38 S&W v the 1930s, but only in methods that didn’t matter. Then as now, what mattered to be whether the firearm in question was a firearm that users would in reality carry and whether they would certainly be comfortable sufficient shooting it come reliably floor shots.

None that its shortcomings hindered the popularity. Through the very first half-century of the smokeless era, the .38 S&W was commonly available, and also the firearms that ran it were usually an extremely affordable. This to be also back in a time before antibiotics, so capturing a round right in the groceries from any kind of firearm at any kind of velocity was frequently a guarantee that you would suffer a slow, grim death.


Colonel Applegate’s “Lemon-Squeezer” blacksmith & Wesson, the revolver that he would aid evolve into one the the most renowned .38 unique platforms in covert carry.

A .38 smith & Wesson wasn’t going to assist you protect against a motorized bandit’s V8 Ford favor a .357 Magnum or .38 at sight would, however it operated for keeping a gaggle of street toughs in ~ bay or routing one invader from your residence. The is also worth noting the though the name is cartridges were the law enforcement darlings the the day, there to be plenty that Colt new Police and also K-frame smith & Wessons chambered in .38 S&W the rode ~ above policemen’s hips because that decades.

The burly little fireplug held its ground through the second World War and also even into the 1950s, particularly internationally together a organization cartridge in an excellent Britain and also its commonwealth countries. Here in the U.S., the smaller sized revolvers were criter in homes and businesses. You’d also see the odd cop or deputy carrying a full-sized revolver chambered for .38 S&W well right into the 1970s in some locations patrolled through part-time constables fairly than permanent LEOs. In fact, it’s tho in thousands of houses today. ~ all, if you don’t shoot much, and if girlfriend love the gun girlfriend inherited from your father or grandfather, what’s not to like around a soft-recoiling revolver?


ODD DUCK: among Applegate’s more curious holster systems, this to be designed come act as a “strapless shoulder holster” of sorts. Bordered with hefty wire, the wearer fastened it to his belt top top his off-side, wherein it organized the revolver in a muzzle-up orientation under a sheathe garment.

The Madre of Invention

Col. Rex Applegate, writer of Kill or obtain Killed and also one the the pioneers that American combatives and tactical guns technique, wound increase in Mexico in the years following the 2nd World War. The was functioning for the nation’s armed forces as a contractor, pass its pressures up to a more modern-day standard. One afternoon in the countryside, roughly 1950, he and a Mexican military officer were waylaid by a regional who intended to murder them through a machete. As most anyone v the choice would, Applegate attracted his sidearm and opened fire, barely preventing the attacker prior to disaster struck. This to be fortunate, together the mexico officer alongside him to be still fumbling v the cumbersome, outdated cavalry-style flap holster in which he was carrying a .45 Automatic.


PROBING because that PROVENANCE: Janich inherited this revolver indigenous Peder Lund, co-founder of Paladin Press, who received it indigenous Applegate’s legacy in 1999.

Applegate interpreted that one of the contributing determinants to his close scrape was the handgun the deployed: the five-shot blacksmith & Wesson safety and security Hammerless pictured here, a top-break revolver produced from the late 1880s v 1940 and chambered in .38 S&W. It was a handy small number for its time. That top-breaking activity loaded quickly, and when you ran the cylinder dry, breaking the pistol open simultaneously ejected every one of the empties. Even better, the double-action-only mechanism had a completely concealed hammer, which created a revolver that was particularly slick the end of the pocket. It’s simply that now and again, you’d need to shoot one assailant five times in the chest for him to break turn off his attack.

We’d just finished a war that fostered an ext advancements in manufacturing and materials science than any kind of other four-year period in human history. There had to be a much better way.

Just come head off anyone who would accuse me that beating up on a classic cartridge, the .38 S&W, called the “.38/200” through the Brits after they got done make their own permutation, was the same cartridge that the Germans claimed barbaric during human being War I. They declared it to be an inhumane load and that the usage of a cartridge so at risk to tumbling in its recipient to be the international warfare equivalent of cruel and also unusual punishment. During WWII, end 500,000 smith & Wesson model 10 “Victory” revolvers chambered for it were produced for the Brits and Commonwealth countries and deployed in every application.

It’s not prefer no one ever efficiently stopped an assault with a round of .38 S&W. That that, as the civilization turned and also men prefer Applegate believed hard around handgunning, that seemed like there must be a revolver about the dimension of the “Lemon-Squeezer” that hit a many harder. The was, ~ all, The atomic Age, and we’d just finished a battle that fostered more advancements in manufacturing and materials scientific research than any kind of other four-year period in human being history. There had to be a far better way.

Revolutionary Revolver


REQUIRED READING: Applegate’s occupational is accessible both online and in print.

Applegate’s idea to be to mate the .38 one-of-a-kind cartridge — then the traditional for police job-related in the U.S. — to the smaller, recently introduced J-frame and include the concealed hammer the the old safety Hammerless. The .38 special was a higher-pressure cartridge 보다 the .38 S&W, which supposed that the 19th-century top-break design was walk to need to go the method of the cavalry saber. Other that could be as easily drawn from cover together his old safety and security Hammerless but built on the J-frame and also chambered because that the .38 distinct was just the ticket, he thought, and Applegate was details that had he been moving such an arm when he was assaulted in Mexico, he’d have actually stopped his attacker far sooner.

After part cajoling and hemming and also hawing top top both the parts of the Colonel and Smith & Wesson, in 1951, S&W chairman Carl Hellstrom presented Applegate a prototype of among the an initial “Centennials,” Serial No. X-84: a 1.875-inch-barreled, five-shot .38 unique that would come to be synonymous through plainclothes police work, concealed carry and also self-defense. And, in a very real way, that all began with that humble tiny citrus-squishing smith that almost didn’t conserve the day.

As for how it wound up in Mike Janich’s basement, you’ll have to check earlier in the February/March 2020 issue. The a story affluent in intrigue and unpredictability, lot like the lives of the males involved.

Presidential Assignment


President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Rex Applegate was hand-picked to serve as a bodyguard to president Franklin D. Roosevelt during a an enig meeting v United Kingdom prime Minister Winston Churchill hosted at Shangri-La, additionally known as Camp David, in 1943.

Special Situation

by Ed Combs, an elderly Editor

It’s the most typically asked question around the .38 S&W (pictured below, left): Is the the same thing as the .38 unique (pictured below, right)? certain not. Not only are the situation shapes various enough to do them incompatible, the cartridge diameter the a .38 S&W is 0.361 inches if the cartridge diameter that a .38 unique is 0.357 inches. Those are your an initial clues the you must never try to load .38 S&W into a gun chambered for .38 Special. Atop that, friend wouldn’t be able to load them into a Special’s cylinder, as the situation is too wide. This is a positive, as were friend to somehow hammer one in there and also cook it off, the caliber disparity described over would record up with you pretty quickly. At best, the longer, contempt fatter cartridge wouldn’t react well to the .38 Special-tuned barrel, and your outcomes would be lower than suboptimal. In ~ worst, you would damage the revolver and possibly damaged yourself.


The bullet diameter that a .38 S&W is 0.361 inches while the cartridge diameter of a .38 special is 0.357 inches. Those space your an initial clues that you have to never shot to fill .38 S&W into a pistol chambered for .38 Special.

The second most commonly asked question is whether grandpa’s old Iver-Johnson or Harrington & Richardson top-break have the right to be provided with contemporary defensive ammo from service providers such as Buffalo Bore. That’s one more resounding negative.

Fortunately, most of the .38 S&W — additionally called “.38 Colt brand-new Police” — sold today is lead round-nose invited to pressures that are more than safe for granddad’s old tackle box gun — listed it’s in great working order. But if the firm that’s marketing you the ammo especially tells you no to usage it in a specific kind of firearm, follow its instructions. Top-breaks choose the Colonel’s were no designed to take care of the type of rounds the Tim Sundles over at Buffalo bore ( whips up because that defense against dangerous humans and also bad dogs and, together such, must only be used in solid-frame revolvers or the behemoth British armed forces top-breaks that can twin as wire-cutters and police batons. As soon as an ammo manufacturer tells you something, listen. If the box claims it’s only safe for use in solid-frame revolvers, heed that advice. If the box claims it’s for sure to use in solid-frame revolvers and also top-break Webleys and Enfields, go for it. But constantly be certain you know what you doing once it comes to guns and ammunition. The comb are just too high to take it chances.


About The Author: Ed Combs

Concealed lug Magazine an elderly Editor Ed Combs is a former teacher and law enforcement officer at this time serving the USCCA together the main point of call for firearm, ammunition and gear testing and also evaluation. That writes the "Legally equipped Citizen" column in CCM and is thrust by a strong passion for self-defense, liberty, freedom and also our second Amendment.

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