September 27, 2019
I knew from the minute I left the theater on Pleasant Street that I would have one of the “world’s most powerful” handguns. I am referring, of course, to the famed “Dirty Harry” movie of 1971 where the Model 29 brought instant success to its maker.
But the story starts much earlier. In the early 1950s, gun writer Elmer Keith went to Smith & Wesson, urging it to build a gun strong enough to handle the heavy .44 Special loads he had developed for the S&W .44 Hand Ejector. His persistence paid off as Remington and Smith & Wesson got together to design the .44 Magnum.
The first production run of Hand Ejectors came in July 1954, and while the results were good, it was decided the gun should be heavier, with a new barrel diameter and a larger frame. Testing was completed in 1956, and the first .44 Magnum Model 29s made their debut.
Built on the N frame, the first Model 29s came in either four- or 6.5-inch barrels and in blue and nickel finishes. It was a big, heavy gun, checking in at 47 ounces with an overall length of 11.25 inches with the longer barrel.
The target trigger was larger than usual and serrated for a smooth double-action pull while the hammer was modified and checkered for a non-slip surface. The rear sight was the S&W micrometer adjustable complete with a white outline. The front sight was a ramped affair and included a red insert.
The grips were oversize and for the most part were profiled in colorful Goncalo Alves wood, but grips in walnut or even rosewood were available checkered or plain. The gun initially was outfitted in a black presentation case with a satin lining. Later, the case was changed to a more pedestrian mahogany.
The gun pictured here is my first Model 29. It’s in mint condition, and I’ve never fired it. My second Model 29 has seen its share of use, and it also shows an early modification: To keep the extractor rod from backing out, the threads were changed to left-hand. The change is noted on the the extractor yoke as “-1”; further modifications of the gun resulted in higher dash numbers like -2, -3, -4 and so on.
Over the years, the Model 29 has been made in numerous variations in barrel length, finish, stainless steel and special editions to suit most of us. We also have seen non-fluted cylinders, heavy lug barrels and front sights that were adjustable on various hunting models. Now add the custom variations made by the Performance Center and you have enough Model 29s to fill a collector’s room to the brim. Thanks, Elmer Keith. You did a heck of a job.