Crafted to provide an emergency revolver for Uncle Sam's Doughboys, the Smith & Wesson Model of 1917 ended up sparking America's longstanding love of the N-frame.
When the U.S. entered what was then termed the Great War and is now better known as World War I, the country's Army went from an oversized border defense force to one capable of taking on the Kaiser. In April 1917, when Congress at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson declared war against Imperial Germany, the U.S. had a standing Army of just 127,500. By the end of the war the following November, this grew to a force of well over 4 million.
All those troops needed weapons, and they needed them fast.
Just as the M1917 "American Enfield" .30-06 manufactured by Remington, Eddystone, and Winchester augmented the standard M1903 Springfield rifle, the Army turned to Colt and Smith & Wesson to produce a revolver capable of firing the same .45 ACP rimless ammo that the standard M1911 Government used. For Colt, that meant a variant of its M1909 New Service chambered in .45 ACP. For Smith, this meant revamping the Hand Ejector 2nd Model from .44 Special or .455 Webley to the shorter .45 ACP.

S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
The S&W Hand Ejector 2nd Model, seen here in its commercial version with checkered medallion grips. Smith produced this revolver from 1917 through 1948. (Photo: Chris Eger/


S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
Wartime S&W M1917s had plain wooden grips and a lanyard ring. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps image circa 1918, via the National Archives)

 While only something like 15,000 S&W 1st Model Hand Ejector revolvers – known as the Triple Lock because its cylinder locked up with the frame in three places – were made between 1908 and 1915, the simplified 2nd Model (which deleted the third lockup point) saw a bit more success. This was because the British government had ordered almost 70,000 modified guns chambered in their standard .455 Webley for use in the Great War before America joined the conflict. A quick redesign to allow the 2nd Model to run .45 ACP, and Smith soon had their M1917 revolver in production for the U.S. Army.

S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
The "Hand Ejector" designation came due to the fact the series had a swing-out (rather than top break) cylinder with a centerline plunger that would extract all the brass at once. (Photo: Chris Eger/
S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
As the .45 ACP is a rimless round, and hence not ideal for use with revolvers, the M1917 used simple six-shot "full moon" and three-shot "half-moon" clips of thin spring steel to load and unload the cylinder. (Photo: Chris Eger/
S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
And the clips could be loaded and ejected as a unit. This was almost as fast as reloading an M1911. (Photo: Chris Eger/
S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
Great War-era "Doughboys" would be armed with the M1917 in a cross-draw leather holster along with a canvas spare ammo case that held six half-moon clips rather than the six-round full moons. (Photo: Chris Eger/
Smith Wesson Model 1917
The M1917 fills the hand much like a Model 29 .44 Magnum would today. But we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit. (Photo: Chris Eger/
S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP in Great War
Over 150,000 S&W M1917s were delivered before the end of the war, and they were often standard-issue for specialist soldiers such as dispatch riders, military police, and machine gunners, while the M1911 automatic was more traditionally issued to officers. (Photos: National Archives)


Once Europe grew quiet, the Roaring 20s saw the M1917 used by both cops and robbers back home. Notably, both the Denver and Los Angeles police departments placed orders for the revolver while, on the other side of the law, John Dillinger's purloined Army-issue M1917, borrowed from a National Guard armory during his travels, now rests in the FBI's collection.

Post-war, Smith & Wesson continued making the 1917 for the commercial market with better grips and finish than was seen on wartime guns, and filled overseas contracts for the increasingly popular revolver. One of the latter was for the Brazilian government which, in 1937, ordered 25,000 M1917 revolvers for the Brazilian army.

S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP Modelo 1937
Dubbed the Modelo 1937 in Brazilian service, these were engraved by S&W with the country's national crest on the right side plate. (Photo: Chris Eger/
Brazilian troops WWII
The Brazilians liked the revolver so much that, while the 50,000-strong Brazilian Expeditionary Force that fought in Italy with the Allies in WWII was largely equipped with American small arms, its officers often carried their Modelo 1937s to war. (Photos: National Archives/Exército Brasileiro)

Speaking of WWII, the M1917, both in Colt's and S&W's version, was still very much in Uncle Sam's arsenals heading into the conflict. Records show that the Army Ordnance Corps had no less than 96,530 Colt and 91,590 S&W M1917s still in reserve. These were soon broken out and put into service, arming MPs, second-line units, and tank personnel early in the war.

US tankers 1940
In 1940, just before the U.S. entered WWII, it was common for tankers to be issued the M1917 along with the Thompson sub gun, as they shared the same ammo. This is why it made sense for Brad Pitt's portrayal of 1SG Don "Wardaddy" Collier in the 2014 war film "Fury" to carry an M1917, as the character likely hailed from the pre-war tank service.

After the war, the Army liquidated its stockpiles of M1917s, and Smith & Wesson ended production of the model in favor of newer variants. Serial numbers would suggest just over 210,000 were made.


Vintage Ad for M1917 revolvers
Post-war, military surplus M1917s of both the Colt and S&W variety flooded the secondary market. 

One of the last hurrahs of the Smith M1917 came in 1946 when Brazil ordered another 12,000 guns, typically made up of everything left in the factory at the time – including some guns originally made in the 1920s. As I said, the Brazilians liked these big .45s and kept them in service into the 1980s.

S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
This Model 1917 is from Smith's second batch sent to Brazil in 1946, as it has a serial number outside the original run, the commercial round bottom U-notch rear sighting notch, and the standard Modelo 1937 national crest. It wears a CAI ST AL VT (Century Arms International St Albans, VT) import mark on the bottom of the barrel, and was likely from the batch of 14,000 surplus guns brought in from Brazil in 1989-1990. (Photo: Chris Eger/


M1917 in movies
The M1917 has proved outsized in terms of its effect on gun culture, and it has appeared in several iconic films, including in the hands of Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones. (Photos: IMFDB)

The company continued to make .45 ACP N-frames after the M1917, such as the Model 1950 and 1955 Target, but they never saw anywhere near the same production numbers that the old moon-clipped wonder reached. Smith took a hiatus from the caliber for a while, then introduced the stainless Model 625 in 1979 followed in 2004 by the Model 325 Thunder Ranch, a more modern defensive sixgun, both of which have since ceased production. Sadly, there is not a .45 ACP-chambered Smith revolver currently in the company's catalog.

Nonetheless, the M1917's popularity as the first large-production Smith & Wesson N-frame revolver ensured the company would keep cranking them out in different calibers. You could argue that, if there had been no M1917, there might not have been a Model 29 .44 Mag for "Dirty Harry" to launch into legend. In a real way, the old .45 ACP S&W revolver carried "Over There" by the Doughboys is that gun's grandpa. 

Today, Smith still makes a wide range of N-frames besides the Model 29 including the 27, 57, 329, 610, 627, 629, and 929, among others. In each, a little bit of the M1917 lives on.
Turns out, maybe people everywhere just really like N-frames. 

S&W 2nd Model Hand Ejector revolver M1917 45ACP
Like an old Case folder, vintage silver coins, or an El Original Claro Robusto (be sure to pick up one the next time you are in Key Largo), the big S&W DA45 has a certain kind of Hemingway-esque charm to it. (Photo: Chris Eger/
revolver barrel loading graphic