A Condensed History of the S&W Model 36 “Chiefs Special”

The Smith & Wesson Model 36 is a revolver chambered for a .38 Special cartridge.

The Model 36 was designed in the era just after World War II, when Smith & Wesson stopped producing war materials and resumed normal production. For the Model 36, they sought to design a revolver that could fire the more powerful .38 Special round in a small, concealable package. Since the older I-frame was not able to handle the load, a new frame was designed, which became the J-frame.

In 1948, S&W President C.R. Hellstrom realized his company was losing ground to the Colt Detective Special. Hellstrom instructed his engineers to turn the S&W five-shot Terrier revolver into something that could handle the more potent .38 Special cartridge. The result was a revolver that retained its’ compactness, thanks to the stubby 1 7/8 inch barrel and a five-shot cylinder.

The new design was introduced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police(IACP) convention in 1950  and was favorably received. A vote was taken to name the new revolver, and the name “Chiefs Special” won. A 3 inch barreled version went into production immediately due to high demand. It was produced as the “Chiefs Special” until 1957, when it became the Model 36.

Serial number 337 was shipped to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and was engraved with his name.

In South Korea in 1974, it was used in the failed attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee, killing his wife Yuk Young-soo instead. Five years later, the Model 36 was used once again to assassinate Park.

For many years, the Model 36 was the standard police detective and “plainclothes man”  carry weapon for many police agencies including the New York Police Department. Many police officers still use it or one of its’ newer Smith & Wesson descendants as a back-up weapon to their primary duty pistol or as their “off-duty” weapon.

For a more elaborate history of the S&W Model 36 “Chiefs Special” go to:

An expanded history of this handgun can be found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_%26_Wesson_Model_36

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