Since making its appearance way back in 1935, the Remington/Smith & Wesson-developed .357 Magnum has continued to enjoy a degree of popularity that, almost eight decades later, shows no sign of declining. In fact, until 1956 heralded the creation of the mighty .44 Magnum, the .357 was billed as “The World’s Most Powerful Handgun Cartridge.”

The first gun built by Smith & Wesson to handle the .357 Magnum cartridge was the now-legendary Model 27. Billed as being “Recommended only for those of above-average physical stature” (which meant that every guy who was 5 feet, two inches tall and weighed 120 pounds absolutely had to have one), the M27 saw immediate success and, for the next six decades, was considered to be the Cadillac of .357s.

The original gun, then called the Three-Fifty-Seven, featured a barrel length of 8.75-inches, later reduced to 8.375-inches to conform with, of all things, NRA competition rules. From it, the original factory load punched out a gas-checked lead 158-grain SWC at a whopping 1,510 feet per second (fps)—clearly not a load for the faint of heart!

By the mid-1950s Colt had become so impressed with the continued success of the .357, that it offered a .357 pistol of its own, the now-famous Python. Originally configured in barrel lengths similar to the M27’s, the Python at last featured a 6-inch barrel length for general use, and 4- and 2-inch barreled versions for police use.


In 1955, in response to urging from shooting expert Bill Jordan, Smith & Wesson introduced the first medium-framed .357, the 6-inch barreled Model 19 Combat Magnum. A decade and a half later, Colt unveiled its stainless-steel counterpart, the Model 66. Though the law-enforcement community instantly adopted the 4-inch version, a 2.5-inch model was also offered and it, too, received rave reviews—especially as an off-duty or plainclothes gun.

Inspired by the size, look and success of Colt’s Python, S&W introduced in the 1980s their highly successful L-frame series. Sized midway between the “K”- (medium) and “S”- or “N”- (heavy) framed .357s that preceded them, blued and stainless steel L-framed .357s offered superior recoil control and a longer service life than the K-framed versions and were faster from a holster than the larger S- or N-framed versions.

Since then, virtually all domestic and many foreign manufacturers have offered medium-framed .357s, including snubbies. In 1994, S&W even went so far as to bring a series of J-framed (small) .357 snubs, known as the Model 640, with several additional versions appearing in late 1996.

These days, it’s a rarity to find a shooting aficionado who doesn’t know about the .357 Magnum. From the casual plinker to the handgun hunter to self-defense-oriented civilians and police officers, the very mention of the .357 Magnum elicits a knowing look and a smile.

The Round

But where did the .357 come from, and why? According to Roy Jinks’ excellent book, “The History of Smith & Wesson,” it was developed from the .38-44 High Velocity cartridge to provide higher performance than was possible with the .38 Special. This may not be the only reason—though it isn’t mentioned in Jinks’ book, my old acquaintance Elmer Keith said on page 279 of his own book, “Sixguns,” that the .357 evolved by lengthening the .38-44 HV case (which was identical to the standard .38 SPL, except that it utilized a small, rather than a large, pistol primer—Magnum primers were unheard of in those days) to prevent it from being chambered in weaker .38 SPL guns. He also strongly intimates that the .357’s performance level was equal, rather than superior, to the .38-44 HV.

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