The Nearly Forgotten 38SW
Today when you say speak of a ‘thirty-eight,’ most people think first of the near universal .38 Special round, used since 1898. Well lets set that aside and speak of the ‘special’s granddaddy– the .38 S&W. This 140-year old mild-recoiling round was a favorite of yesteryear and is still a viable shooter today.
Back in the 1870s Smith and Wesson was introducing a new revolver, what later became known as their First Model series and they needed a new, reliable round for it. They produced the 38S&W just for this reason. They mounted a 140-grain .361-inch bullet on a 0.78-inch long brass case with a .433-inch rim diameter over a charge of black powder to produce a 1.20-inch long cartridge. It was very successful and soon almost cornered the handgun market, being one of the most powerful and hard-hitting rounds of the day. After about 1900 it was updated with smokeless powder and bullets up to 200-grains (the British Army .38/200 load), but overall is still the same round.
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