.32 S&W

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.32 S&W
Place of originUnited States
Production history
DesignerSmith & Wesson
Case typeRimmed, straight
Bullet diameter.312 in (7.9 mm)
Neck diameter.334 in (8.5 mm)
Base diameter.335 in (8.5 mm)
Rim diameter.375 in (9.5 mm)
Rim thickness.045 in (1.1 mm)
Case length.61 in (15 mm)
Overall length.92 in (23 mm)
Primer typeBerdan or boxer small pistol
Ballistic performance
Bullet mass/type Velocity Energy
85 gr (6 g) Lead 705 ft/s (215 m/s) 93 ft⋅lbf (126 J)
98 gr (6 g) Lead 705 ft/s (215 m/s) 115 ft⋅lbf (156 J)
Source(s): "Cartridges of the World" [1]

The .32 S&W cartridge (also known as the .32 S&W Short) was introduced in 1878 for Smith & Wesson pocket revolvers. It was originally designed as a black powder cartridge. The .32 S&W was offered to the public as a light defense cartridge for "card table" distances.[2]


Originally designed by the Union Metallic Cartridge Co. (UMC) as a black powder cartridge using nine grains of black powder, the round has been loaded with smokeless powder exclusively since 1940.[3] It is low-powered and perfect for use in small frame concealable revolvers and derringers. The round remained popular in the United States and Europe long after the firearms chambered for it were out of production.[1]

At one time it was considered to be the bare minimum for a self-defense round and was judged unsuitable for police work.[1]

For defensive uses, the .32 S&W is grouped with other turn-of-the-century cartridges designed for use in "belly guns"; guns meant for use in point blank defensive situations such as in a carriage or alleyway. These cartridges include the .25 ACP, and the .22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle. For comparison, the minuscule .32 S&W projectile is over 40% larger in diameter and over twice as heavy as the 40 gr lead round nose used in the .22 Long Rifle of its day (known as standard velocity today). The .32 S&W's velocity of approximately 700 fps was very close to the .22 LR's performance from a sub-3-inch barrel but with this larger diameter and better sectional density.

Although the .32 S&W's round nose bullet was less than optimal for defense, it did offer significant improvement over these other common handgun calibers of the day.

This performance made the .32 S&W, sometimes referred to as .32 Short, very popular as a gentleman's "vest gun".


The .32 S&W Long cartridge is derived from the .32 S&W, by increasing the overall brass case length, to hold more powder. Since the .32 S&W headspaces on the rim and shares the rim dimensions and case and bullet diameters of the longer .32 S&W Long, the .32 H&R Magnum cartridges, and the .327 Federal Magnum, .32 S&W cartridges may be fired in arms chambered for these longer cartridges. Longer cartridges are unsafe in short chambers, so none of these longer and more powerful cartridges should be loaded into arms designed for the .32 S&W.[4]

The .32 Merwin & Hulbert cartridge is the same as the .32 S&W. Merwin & Hulbert rebranded the .32 S&W and .38 S&W with their own name, but dimensionally they were the same.

McKinley assassination[edit]

Leon Czolgosz used an Iver Johnson revolver chambered in .32 S&W to assassinate President William McKinley on September 6, 1901.[5] McKinley was shot twice in the abdomen at close range, and although he did not die immediately, he eventually succumbed to gangrene on September 14.

Chambered weapons[edit]

Iver Johnson top break revolvers

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Barnes, Frank C. (2006) [1965]. Skinner, Stan, ed. Cartridges of the World (11th ed.). Iola, WI, USA: Gun Digest Books. pp. 290, 337. ISBN 0-89689-297-2.
  2. ^ Chicoine, David (28 September 2005). Antique Firearms Assembly/Disassembly: The Comprehensive Guide to Pistols, Rifles & Shotguns. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. pp. 177–181. ISBN 0-87349-767-8.
  3. ^ cartridges of the world 15th edition page 430 (2016) by Frank C. Barnes
  4. ^ Treakle, John W. American Rifleman (May 2011) p.42
  5. ^ Gun Review: Iver Johnson .32 S&W - The Truth About Guns