In production for 15 years, the all-stainless-steel Smith & Wesson Model 5906 is an enduring classic that remains hard to beat. This is especially true in the case of "often carried but seldom used" police trade-in guns. 
 

That '59 Lineage


Shortly after World War II, engineers at S&W spent a lot of lean muscle tissue working through the night on a planned double-action/single-action 9mm replacement for the venerable M1911A1 Government Issue. Even while the Smith performed well in the X100 service pistol trials, Uncle Sam elected to keep on trucking for another 30 years with the millions of 1911s on hand as they were infinitely cheaper than buying new pistols.

S&W took the research and introduced the Model 39, a single-stack 7+1 capacity 9mm, to the commercial market in 1955. 
 

The S&W Model 39 vintage ads
The S&W Model 39, introduced in 1955, stemmed from an Army handgun tender but sparked three generations of DA/SA semi-autos. 


Updating the Model 39 to accept a 14+1 capacity magazine – outpacing the vaunted Browning Hi-Power of the day by one round – the Model 59 was introduced in 1971. It soon proved popular with both police and consumers and almost a quarter million S&W Model 59s were produced. 
 

The S&W 59
The S&W 59, the company's first generation of DA/SA 9mm pistols, was in production from 1971 to 1982. (Photo: Guns.com)


Smith again updated the well-liked M59 in the early 1980s, introducing the 2nd Generation alloy-framed Model 459 and steel-framed Model 559/659, along with more compact Model 469 and 669, with the leading "6" designation being for stainless steel models, which replaced the old nickel offerings. 
 

Smith & Wesson Model 459
The S&W 459, a compact 2nd Generation successor to the Model 59, was popular with police for a generation and we often have LE trade-ins of this model available.. 

 

Then, in 1988, the 3rd (and final) Generation of S&W DA/SA "Wondernines" hit the scene. 
 

Meet the S&W 5906 


At roughly the same time Guns N' Roses was releasing "Sweet Child O' Mine" (that intro riff still holds up), Smith debuted its penultimate double-action/single-action pistol series.

While the Gen 1s had two digits (39 & 59) and the 2nd Gen had three (459, 559, etc.), the 3rd had generally grown to four digits with a caliber designation worked in there somewhere. For instance, the .45 ACP models were the 4500 series, the 10mm variants were the 1000 series, and the 9mm line was the 3900s (single stack), 5900s (double stack, full-sized), and the 6900 series (double-stack, compact). 
 

Smith & Wesson Model 5906
The S&W 5906, produced from 1989 through 1999 in its standard model and until 2004 in its railed TSW variant, was a well-liked double-stack DA/SA 9mm with a stainless-steel frame and slide. An alloy-framed half-brother, the S&W 5903, had a similar run. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Smith & Wesson Model 5906
This example was born on Aug. 18, 1993, making it just over 30 years young. This specimen came from a lot of police trade-in 5906s currently in the Guns.com Vault, looking for a forever home. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

 

Commercial sales were of course the driver, but Smith heavily courted law enforcement for the line as a whole. 

While some high-speed and rural departments elected for .45s, 40s, and 10mm models for the "knockdown power" (hey, we are talking 1980s industry buzzwords here), by far the most popular at the time was the 9mm, as it used a more economical round, had a serious magazine capacity (grown to 15+1 rounds in the double stack variants), and was easy to control by comparison.

Plus, the DA/SA design made it a very safe gun to train on and with on the range. As training days were few due to always shoestring budgets – something that has not changed – and lots of officers in the era were transitioning from DA/SA revolvers to their first carry semi-auto, it was another bonus. 
 

Smith & Wesson Model 5906
The S&W 5906 was a staple of LE in the 1990s and early 2000s, and you should almost be ready to grow a mustache and grab a pair of Ray-Bans should you pick up an old trade-in model. Weaver stance not required. (Photos: S&W/Guns.com)


As a sign of just how deeply the 5906 penetrated the market at the time it was released, they appeared consistently in 1990s cop films including in the hands of Danny Glover's fictional Detective Roger Murtaugh in three different installments of the "Lethal Weapon" franchise and Michael Keaton's Agent Ray Nicolette in "Jackie Brown," not to mention with both Mulder and Scully across several seasons of alien hunting in the "X-Files."  
 

Smith & Wesson Model 5906 in movies and TV
The S&W 5906 saw lots of screen time in the 1990s, with varying degrees of trigger and muzzle discipline. (Photos: IMFDB)


Its NATO-standard caliber also primed the 5906M military variant with a number made for Latin American customers (as the 5906 Modelo Militar) to include the governments of Argentina and Columbia, as well as some exported for use by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Japan Coast Guard.
 

Smith & Wesson Model 5906
The 5906 runs a 4-inch barrel, giving it an overall length of 7.5 inches. Being all stainless steel, it is a bit heavy, running about 36 ounces unloaded. 
Smith & Wesson Model 5906
Smith offered these in three different sight options: a fixed Novak Lo Mount carry sight (seen here), a distinctive adjustable rear sight, and a Tritium night sight variant. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Smith & Wesson Model 5906
The DA/SA trigger gives a long and heavy double-action pull with a shorter and lighter single-action follow-up. The ambidextrous safety/de-cocker locks the hammer but not the slide. Also, most S&W Gen 3s have a magazine disconnect, which gives the user a "dead" trigger whenever the magazine isn't inserted. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Smith & Wesson Model 5906
Takedown is very Browning Hi-Power style, with the user aligning the take-down lever with a notch in the frame on an unloaded and empty 5906, then pushing it out from the other side. The plastic magazine floorplate makes an easy tool for this. Reassembly can be tricky when it comes to lining up the extractor and magazine safety plunger but isn't impossible. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Smith & Wesson Model 5906
The 5906 looks simple on the inside and, for a 30-year-old gun that saw years of duty use, is still hard-wearing. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Smith & Wesson Model 5906
The S&W OEM 15-round magazine (10 rounds in case of restricted mags) has an orange follower and witness holes. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

 

The below sampling of the LE trade in S&W 5906s we have in stock gives a good representation of the material condition of the guns we have on hand.

 

Smith & Wesson Model 5906s
There are pretty clear signs of use from the daily grind as an officer, but they will still make excellent sidearms and have lots of life left in them. (Photo: Guns.com)


We took the circa 1993 trade-in 5906s showcased above randomly from the lot and put 100 rounds of mixed ball and JHP through the magazine that came with it.

Below is a typical string: 

 

 

Although S&W stopped production on the standard 5906 in 1999 (and the railed TSW variant in 2004), replacing the line with the polymer-framed striker-fired S&W M&P9 series, these old Wondernines are still supportable. While many LE trade-ins typically just come with a single mag, the 5900 series magazine is easy to source. Mec Gar makes an excellent flush-fit 17+1 round model that is an easily unlockable upgrade. Further, lots of new and recycled parts are out there. Replacement grips are also out there as well and, as far as holsters go, odds are you can find one without too much of an issue, although they may not be of the latest styles. 
 

Why get one? 


The 5906 was the peak of S&W's Wondernine evolution, benefiting from over 75 years of development of the platform as well as the feedback (and warranty returns) from thousands of users going back to the old Model 39 and the Army's circa 1948-1954 X100 pistol program. In other words, it was about as perfect as Smith could make it for a duty-grade all-stainless DA/SA double-stack 9mm. They are balanced, reliable, and shoot well, making them a good companion to similar all-metal hammer-fired guns of the era such as the CZ 75, Beretta 92, and SIG P226 – but all American. 
 

Smith & Wesson Model 5906
The 5906 is like an old wrench set in the shed. It may have gotten a little grungy over the years, but odds are, it's still going to work. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)


As for being a police trade-in gun, while LE customers may have used them for a decade or three, and lots of them are floating around as surplus, these guns are typically a long way away from being worn out, with most damage being of the cosmetic type. For someone looking for a used 9mm pistol with a decent capacity and good performance that will likely still be working for generations to come, the 5906 stands tall. Plus, it’s got some genuine cultural tie-ins for Gen Xers and a lot of character. 

Sorry, though, mustaches not included.

 

Check out Great Deals Among Our LE Trade In Offerings

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