In the area of personal pocket firepower, Smith & Wesson has a very solid foundation. The company owes its existence today to the early pocket-sized revolvers of the 1850s, which put Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson’s partnership on the map. What allowed them to rise from the ashes of their first “magazine pistols” was a combination of timing and business savvy. The self-contained cartridge was advancing in reliability, and their alliance with Rollin White and his 1855 patent for a bored-through cylinder chamber was fortuitous. It positioned them to be, until that patent expired, the sole U.S. manufacturer of revolvers with entirely self-contained cartridges loaded from the rear of each chamber.

The immediate result was a series of .22 and .32 rimfire tip-up revolvers that sold quite well, many in shorter-barreled configurations that saw regular carry by those who wanted a small personal-protection piece, as many of us do today. The little tip-ups were prized by Civil War soldiers on both sides and then by civilians after the war, solidifying the S&W brand. As technology progressed, so did Smith & Wesson. Guns and the ammunition they fired grew in size and power, but the company has never turned its back on the small pocket gun.

Dependable J-Frames

Smith & Wesson’s arguably most practical and effective small-framed pocket gun is the .38 Special J-Frame, originally named the Chief’s Special. It was introduced in 1950, 95 years after the White patent helped firmly establish one of the longest-running firearms brands in the nation. The little five-shot, double-action snub has not only been in continuous production ever since but also spawned a number of variations in steel, aluminum, titanium, scandium and even polymer.

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