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The .357 Magnum revolver cartridge was devised by Elmer Keith and Phillip Sharp of Winchester Rifle and ammunition makers in association with Smith & Wesson in the 1930's. The cartridge was based upon the .38 Special but with much more power. The .357 Magnum was released for sale in 1935 and its popularity has never waned.

Below is pictured the very popular Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum, with target sights.

 

In the 1930's, the U.S Law Enforcement Agencies realized that they needed a more powerful handgun to combat the rise in organized crime.  Crime as brought about by the gangsters like John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone and other note-worthies that rose to infamy during the great depression and prohibition era.

Below is shown the modern Smith & Wesson Model 686 .357 Magnum, this was and still is a very popular revolver.

 

At the time the only handgun capable of completely penetrating a car or more ostensibly a Get-Away Car  that " hoods " were now using, was the Colt .38 Super semi-automatic. I have a webpage about it here.

Gangsters were also beginning to wear the first bullet proof  vests and when one of these was tested it was revealed that a bullet needed to be traveling at over 1000f.p.s (feet per second) to be able to penetrate it.  Most handguns at that time had muzzle velocities of around 600 to 800 f.p.s 

However, the Colt .38 Super with a muzzle velocity exceeding 1200 f.p.s managed to penetrate at medium to close range. However, semi-automatics like the Colt .38 Super were not favored by many law enforcers due to the nasty habit of guns like this jamming up, especially when your life may depend on every valuable shot. So the relatively under powered almost un-jammable revolvers were the weapons that were most relied upon.

Todays, Smith & Wessons Model 686, as seen below, is perhaps the revolver that has set the standard for .357 Magnum revolvers in size, accuracy and performance.

The law enforcement agencies needed to combat the wearers of bullet proof vests and the cars they drove too, so a more powerful round of revolver handgun ammunition was earnestly sought.   The popular .38 Special revolver cartridge was looked at with aims of improving it.

The cartridge case was extended by 3.2mm so that it would not fit into an ordinary .38 or .38 Special revolver and the charge of powder was modified, increasing the pressure within.

Below is a modern Smith & Wesson AirLite PD .357 Magnum snub nosed revolver.

SM163061 - Smith and Wesson 340PD 357 Magnum | 38 Special

The .38 Special revolver has a C.U.P Copper Unit Pressure rating of 16,500 units and the .357 Magnum now had 35,000 units of pressure...twice as much.  This new round was tested on the early bullet proof vests and was very successful as the bullet went clean through the vest, also the .357 magnum could damage an engine block of a car if fired at close range.

The law enforcement agencies now had a handgun to be reckoned with...the .357 Magnum, a gun that could drop an assailant with one shot in the torso even wearing an early so called bullet proof  vest. 

Below is shown the modern eight shot Smith & Wesson model 327PD.  The letters PD stands for Personal Defence and this particualr .357 Magnum is more than up to this task!

 

The term "Magnum"  was actually coined by Major Douglas Wesson of Smith & Wesson, he was a well know connoisseur of  expensive champagne and a double size bottle  is called a "Magnum" of which he regularly ordered.  This name sounded appropriate to him to express the larger and almost twice as powerful cartridge. 

Also the new cartridge had to be distinguished  from the normal .38, so the caliber of .357 was chosen. All .38 caliber cartridges can be fired in a .357 Magnum revolver but .357 Magnum cartridges cannot be fired from a .38 revolver...as they won't fit in the cylinder.

Below is shown six .357 Magnum cartridges at approx actual size.

Automatic pistols have always had more fire power due to the fact that they have a magazine inside their handles that can accommodate more bullets that a revolving cylinder can. The Colt .45 can hold seven cartridges whilst the modern Austrian Glock can hold eighteen or even twenty cartridges.

Even though the .357 Magnum cartridge can now be found chambered in a semi-automatic such as the Desert Eagle,  it is for all intents and purposes a true revolver cartridge.  For many years the revolver has always held only six cartridges, such as the Model 620 as featured below, a nice traditional gun...

 

...more recently however,  Smith & Wesson have devised a revolver that holds eight cartridges and this puts it on par with the magazine capacity of many semi-auto pistols. Below the image depicts an eight shot .357 Magnum revolver with the cylinder swung out to show the spaces  where the cartridges go...all eight of them!

These eight shot revolvers don't have the sleek streamlined look of the traditional Smith & Wesson, but looks can soon give way for those extra two shots that might be life savers in a shoot out, so I would favor the higher capacity over looks any day.

Below is a limited edition Smith & Wesson model 586-7.  and as the number 7 after the model number depicts...its a seven shot revolver.

 

If Smith & Wesson were to make larger ammunition capacity revolvers as the standard now, I envisage that they would become equal to semi-autos from the retail point of perspective.  You can never have too many rounds in a magazine or cylinder and as I have said, that extra round could be a matter of life or death, specially for the many police patrol officers who often get into shootouts.

Below is the popular Ruger Security Six .357 Magnum, it is relatively small, light and unobtrusive to carry around all day in a concealed carry capacity.

I think that the Smith & Wesson 586-7, as seen below, is a nice looking piece, based on the Distinguished Combat Magnum its an ideal revolver for all occasions.  Be it with an officer on patrol, an enthusiast down on the range, collectors, marksmen, military or even as suitable material for a webpage.

 

However, as a limited edition revolver, Smith & Wesson will not often manufacture any more than whatever quantity they have specified for it.  However, I always believe that public opinion en mass is often listened to by such companies as Smith & Wesson.  This was exemplified during the 1970's when they put their Model 29 .44 Magnum into full production after Clint Eastwood popularized it in the Dirty Harry  movie.

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Page created August 7th 2007. Updated January 20th 2013