While there are any number of very handy and downright pocketable little 9mm pistols today, back in the mid-1980s, Detonics was the main name in the game.
Reagan-era compact pistol woes
Super compact semi-auto pistols at the time were far from a radical concept, as guns like the assorted Browning Baby and Colt Vest Pocket had been on the market since the 1900s. However, they were more on the pipsqueak level, chambered in .25 ACP. Larger format pistols like the Walther PP/PPK brought .32 ACP and .380 ACP to the table, but if you wanted something with a bit more ballistic performance, you had to cash in your savings bonds and go for a Semmerling or an ASP, both of which were in extremely limited, almost underground, production.
Formed in Seattle, Washington around 1976, Detonics quickly made a name for itself with a chopped down M1911-style .45 ACP pistol with a 3.5-inch barrel dubbed the Combatmaster. They followed up on the success of that gun by delivering a highly optimized M1911, the Scoremaster, to the burgeoning competition circuit of the day and continued introducing other pistols – Servicemaster, Compmaster, et. al. – along the same vein.
In 1985, they departed from the 1911 world with a DA/SA 9mm blowback pistol they called the Pocket 9. With a 3-inch barrel and a six-shot single-stack magazine, it weighed 26 ounces. At a hair under 6 inches long, it was smaller than a PPK.
While such a gun would be a squishy "meh" now in a world filled with micro 9s such as the Sig Sauer P365s, Springfield Hellcats, Ruger Max-Is and Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Shield Plus, it was interesting in the days of New Coke and the Nintendo NES.
Speaking of pop culture references, the Pocket 9 was head-turning enough to be on-screen back-up guns for both Sonny Crockett on "Miami Vice" and the original Thomas Magnum. Likewise, it appeared in "New Jack City" and the late DMX seemed to have used one as well.
The pistol seemed to be reliable enough for what it was intended for, with Bob Murphy in the Sept. 1985 issue of American Handgunner putting 1,045 rounds through it before a major malfunction. Despite minor issues, like a tendency to deform ejected brass and wonky grips, Murphy said the "Detonics Pocket 9 can be recommended for concealed use by officers and civilians requiring a compact pistol for protection. It is a natural for off-duty and back-up use."
However, it looks like the company decided to stick with .45s as the Pocket 9 ended production in 1986, just a year after it was introduced. That makes these early parabellum BUGs (back-up guns) a hit with collectors.
What happened to Detonics?
The original Washington-based company was sold in early 1988 to a company named the New Detonics Manufacturing Corporation of Phoenix, Arizona, then closed shop just four years later. A rebooted firm, calling itself Detonics USA popped up in Pendergrass, Georgia, for a few years in the early 2000s, then likewise went dark. Finally, Detonics Defense – based in Millstadt, Illinois, and in operation from 2007 to about 2016 – closed out the name after a 30-year run.
None of the post-1988 Detonics firms produced the Pocket 9, sticking instead to the classic M1911-style Combatmaster, Scoremaster, Servicemaster, and Streetmaster pistols along with parts for the same. Today, a European firearms company in the Czech Republic also uses the Detonics moniker but appears to have no current connection to the old American forerunner and produces double-barreled break-action pistols.