Thursday, January 4, 2018

Smith & Wesson introduced its first “automatic” handgun, as it was known in 1913, with the Model 1913 “.35 Automatic Pistol “.

When Colt began licensing several designs from John Moses Browning’s semi-automatic pistol their sales success had the other major manufacturers scrambling for a slice of the pie.

Smith & Wesson, wanting in the game, had the same problem that the others did: Patents. Colt's Browning patents covered a plethora of details, from the one-piece slide and breechblock to the method of attaching the grip panels to the frame with screws.

Smith’s answer was to shop overseas for a design to license, and they settled on a Belgian design, the Clement, and modified it to suit the U.S. market, adding a grip safety and other embellishments that they thought would help sales. 

Unfortunately, compared to the fairly simple designs from Colt, the Smith & Wesson was positively overkill, with a parts count nearly double that of its competitors. Further the control placements went beyond counter-intuitive and were actively user-hostile. The grip safety was a tab on the front of the frame and for some users it took an active effort to disengage. The manual safety was a thumbwheel that protruded through the backstrap and could not be operated with the hand in a firing grip.

To make things worse they also designed a new proprietary cartridge for the pistol: .35 S&W Auto. Similar to the .32ACP, the slightly larger round was partially metal-jacketed, with a larger exposed lead driving band that would engage the rifling. The theory was that this would couple the reliable feeding of round-nosed FMJ with the reduced barrel wear of lead bullets. Since everybody else had standardized on the Browning-designed .32, S&W owners had a harder time finding more expensive ammunition for their complex, hard-to-use pistols. This was not a recipe for sales success.

The Model 1913 was manufactured between 1913 and 1921, approx. 8,350 were produced.