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Smith & Wesson M&P Series: A Quick History

UICName five of the best striker-fired polymer frame handguns. Right now — go! 

If your top five doesn’t include the Smith & Wesson M&P series, then you likely have never had the chance to handle one.

S&W M&P Shield EZ, Sig P365, Glock 43x
S&W M&P Shield EZ, Sig P365, Glock 43x — just to name a few!

The striker-fired polymer frame pistol market is quite crowded, but the M&P line certainly stands out. 

Everyone knows about the current M&P lineup, but did you know the first M&P series pistols were built in 1899

M&P 2.0 Compact
We’ve come a long ways!

As it turns out, Smith & Wesson’s M&P line has a fascinating history, and we’re going to dive into it! We’ll look at the origin of the M&P series and where it stands in the world of firearms today.

If you ever wanted to know more about how this series grew to be one of the most popular in the market…keep reading…

Table of Contents

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A Little About Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson, as a company, has been producing American-made firearms since 1856.

Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson joined forces to become the Smith & Wesson Revolver Company.

So started the legend. 

smith and wesson logo

They produced numerous single-action revolver designs and obtained success during the American Civil War.

Even after the conflict ended, Smith & Wesson remained successful and continued to produce and innovate in the field of revolvers. 

The Birth of the M&P Series 

In 1899, the United States military was modernizing their weaponry. Part of that modernization included the Smith & Wesson .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899

 Smith & Wesson .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899
Smith & Wesson .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899. That name is bigger than the gun!

Smith & Wesson could produce fantastic revolvers, but clearly, their naming convention needed work. 

The U.S. Army and Navy ordered between 2,000 to 3,000 of these revolvers.

Smith & Wesson wisely changed the name of the .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899 to the .38 Military and Police model

With that small change, the M&P series was born!

Smith and Wesson 1899 US Army 38 Long Colt Revolver
Smith and Wesson 1899 US Army 38 Long Colt Revolver

The .38 Military and Police model was a 6-shot, double-action revolver chambered in .38 Long Colt.

It quickly saw action in the Philippines in the hands of U.S. forces fighting the Moro rebellion the same year it was adopted. 

American soldiers fighting in the Moro Rebellion
American soldiers fighting in the Moro Rebellion

The Moro rebellion is likely more famous in the annals of gun culture than anywhere else.

Here is where the .38 Long Colt proved to be rather anemic, and the military was forced to pull out the old .45 Colt Single Action Army revolvers.

.45 caliber apologists will always point to this to justify their chosen caliber. 

.45 ACP (230gr)
.45 ACP (230g-r)

The poor performance of the .38 Long Colt ultimately led Smith & Wesson to develop the .38 S&W Special, a.k.a. the .38 Special.

This round proved to be more capable, becoming one of the most prolific revolver cartridges worldwide. 

The First Changes 

In 1902, the United States saw the birth of the first movie theatre, the independence of Cuba from the United States, and the next model of the .38 Military and Police revolver. 

Smith & Wesson .38 Special Military and Police Revolvers
Smith & Wesson .38 Special Military and Police Revolvers in two different barrel lengths

Ever the innovators, Smith & Wesson simplified and improved the internals of the revolver.

This improvement led to a more robust gun that was cheaper to produce and easier to work on. Win-win!

They also added a lug to protect the ejection rod. Previous designs had a free-floating ejector rod that could easily bend in non-permissive environments. 

Smith and Wesson round butt vs square butt revolvers
Smith and Wesson round butt vs square butt revolvers

S&W produced the revolver with a round butt in a variety of barrel lengths, including 4-, 5-, 6-, and 6.5-inch models.

In 1904, S&W added a square butt option as well. 

The M&P revolvers were quite popular with civilian shooters regardless of their namesake.

Police forces proved a bit slower to adopt, but the M&P series steadily grew. 

Smith & Wesson .38 M&P, sometimes called Pre-Model 10
Smith & Wesson .38 M&P, sometimes called Pre-Model 10

The Great War

American forces adopted the 1911 and finally killed the revolver in military use.

Or well, that was the idea. However, slow manufacturing meant the .38 Military and Police would see plenty of action.

Handguns in World War I were a hodgepodge, and the Military and Police served with distinction as a capable fighting revolver. 

Smith & Wesson M1917 revolver
Smith & Wesson M1917 revolvers, chambered in .45 ACP, also saw action.

S&W had made numerous changes over the years prior to World War I. Some notable improvements included a passive hammer block and a massive set of iron sights. Well, massive for the time. 

These sights proved popular and became the standard for fighting revolvers. 

After World War I, the .38 Military and Police exploded into popularity with police forces. If it was good enough for the European front, it was good enough for the home front.

S&W M&P Sport II Branding
And Smith & Wesson has been popular with civilians, militaries, and polices forces ever since!

Victory Model is Born 

If people thought World War I was a surprise, they must’ve been shocked when the sequel came around.

By now, the 1911 essentially became the standard of the United States military. 

Colt M1911 from 1917
Colt M1911 from 1917

That said, the call of war rose a massive army — bigger than manufacturing could keep up with. 

So while the combat arms troops were wielding mostly 1911s with a smattering of 1917 revolvers, the .38 Military and Police filled the gaps.

WWII Female WAVES practice with their Smith & Wesson .38 M&P Revolvers
WWII Female WAVES practice with their Smith & Wesson .38 M&P Revolvers

Coast Guard forces still wielded the M&P by large, as did reserve and units tasked with domestic duties.

Pilots and Naval personnel also adopted the M&P models. 

The lend-lease program sent hundreds of thousands of these revolvers to allied nations and the OSS just casually passed them on to resistance forces.

At this point, S&W proclaimed these the Victory models. 

S&W .38 M&P Victory (Shooting Times)
S&W .38 M&P Victory (Shooting Times)

Any revolver that helped destroy the greatest threat to democracy ever known can certainly wear the Victory moniker!

You’d think after World War II, the .38 Military and Police models would slowly fade away.

You’d be wrong, though.

As a testament to their durability, the .38 Military and Police revolvers served into the 1990s in some specialized roles with particular forces.

Now, these finely tuned and well-worn revolvers are retired, but the fact they invaded Iraq the first time is impressive. 

Marines board a Chinook helicopter during the Gulf War, 1991
Marines board a Chinook helicopter during the Gulf War, 1991

The Model 10 

In 1957, the .38 Military and Police became the Model 10.

It went on to become the absolute ruler of the .38 Special revolver world and one of the most popular revolvers ever, especially with police forces. 

Smith & Wesson Military and Police .38 Special Revolver (Model 10)
Smith & Wesson Military and Police .38 Special Revolver (Model 10)

Along the way, the Model 10 shaped and evolved as firearms technology and tactics changed.

The Military and Police moniker was dropped after 1957, remaining absent…until 2005. 

600
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Rebirth of the M&P Series 

Smith & Wesson fiddled around with polymer frame striker-fired guns before.

The famed Sigma was basically a poor man’s Glock. (S&W even caught a lawsuit over it.)

Smith & Wesson Sigma 9mm
Smith & Wesson Sigma 9mm

The company partnered with Walther for the SW99, and it saw limited success. 

Still, S&W wanted a polymer frame striker-fired pistol of its own.

With that idea, the M&P series of pistols made its debut in 2005.

The reborn Military and Police pistol was everything a modern duty handgun should be. 

M&P 2.0 vs 1.0
M&P 2.0 (top) vs. 1.0

It featured a striker-fired system, a polymer frame, a double-stack magazine, and interchangeable backstraps. It came in three caliber options — 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.

The M&P’s backstraps were a unique feature that allowed the end-user to customize the gun’s grip size for their individual hands. 

S&W M&P Palm Inserts
M&P backstraps come in three sizes!

Smith and Wesson’s M&P series has a knack for creating new industry standards, and interchangeable backstraps are a standard industry feature on modern firearms. 

The Expansion of the M&P Series 

S&W expanded into the rifle market with the M&P series of rifles.

Starting with the AR-15, they eventually produced an AR-10 variant as well as a .22 LR rifle.

The M&P series comes in both the Sport and Law Enforcement models. 

S&W M&P Sport II shooting in the hills
S&W M&P Sport II

Sport models offer a reliable and affordable rifle for non-duty use.

The duty variants of the M&P series are often more modern and feature all the tactical doodads police, and military shooters want.

Law Enforcement models range from the Patrol variant to specialized short-barreled rifles

Most Affordable AR-15
699
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

S&W expanded even further with numerous concealed carry pistols like the Bodyguard, the Shield, the EZ series, and even the Bodyguard .38 Special revolver. 

S&W M&P Shield EZ .380
S&W M&P Shield EZ .380

We can’t forget the M&P handgun series is now in the improved 2.0 variant and remains a popular choice for concealed carry and home defense.

While the original M&P was a term and moniker reserved to one simple revolver, the current M&P lineup has grown into all corners of the market.

Smith & Wesson have taken the M&P name and made guns for everyone. 

We have concealed carry guns and rimfire guns bearing the same moniker as the duty weapons equipping police forces across the world. 

The new M&P series handguns and rifles have proven extremely popular — not just with civilian shooters either, but with military and police forces as well.

In the United States, the M&P handguns are carried by countless police forces.

Notably, the California Highway Patrol, LAPD, LA Sheriff’s Department, the DEA, and the Vermont police department issue the M&P series pistol.

Chicago PD M&P stops bullet
Including this very lucky Chicago PD officer whose holstered M&P stopped a bullet!

Internationally the M&P series pistols have been adopted by over a dozen different countries.

Various foreign state, federal, and provincial police forces use the M&P pistols en masse.

Beyond handguns, the M&P rifle series has seen action with the IRS, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and countless other police forces.

Conclusion

Military and Police certainly summons the image of a particular user, but since 1899 the M&P series has remained popular with the everyday civilian.

M&P, New vs Old
M&P, 1.0 vs. 2.0

In fact, the majority of M&Ps reside in the hands of everyday people looking for a high-quality, American-made firearm to defend themselves, their homes, and their families. 

The Military and Police legacy lives on through the addition of M&P pistols and rifles and how they serve their communities.

S&W M&P Sport II in a stump
S&W M&P Sport II

What are your thoughts about the M&P line? Let us know down in the comments! Also, jump on over and read our review of the Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0. Or get caught up the history of Glock, one of S&W’s biggest competitors.

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2 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Ryan

    The Walther P99 was the first pistol to feature interchangeable backstraps and was introduced in 1996, predating the polymer M&P by almost a decade.

    September 23, 2021 5:01 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mark S.

    Having owned several of the first generation Sigmas and second generation Glocks, I can say that though the Sigma might have been designed similar to the Glock, there was no comparison when it came to real world reliability and durability. The Sigma pistols, especially the. 40 S&W versions developed reliability issues easy before any modern pistol should have.

    Trigger feel aside, I have a favorable experience with the M&P 1.0. The 2.0 only got better.

    May 19, 2021 6:49 am