In 1934, the team of Philip B. Sharpe, Elmer Keith, and D. B. Wesson of Smith & Wesson developed .357 Magnum ammo to compete with Colt’s .38 Super Automatic. The round was based on S&W’s .38 Special. At the time, the .38 Super Automatic was the only cartridge on the American market touting a muzzle velocity above 1,000 FPS. Law enforcement chose the .38 because it was powerful enough to penetrate auto glass and the ballistics vests often used by gangsters. Police were impressed by the power of the .357 Mag as it could outperform almost all revolver ammo on the market. D.B. Wesson saw the possibilities and was poised to use the .357 to make S&W the sole provider of arms and ammo for law enforcement.
Experts credit .357 ammo for starting the “Magnum Era.” Shooters like the dual-purpose cartridge for its versatility since it can be used for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense. It offers superior stopping power yet is light on recoil. While there may be more powerful ammunition on the market, the .357 is easy to control and provides high accuracy.
Development and Design
The design team changed the .357 Magnum slightly from Keith’s original design. Today’s model, also known as the .357 S&W Magnum or the 9x33mmR, is a rimmed centerfire cartridge that houses a .357 inch (9.1mm) diameter bullet in a case measuring 1.29 inches in length. The total length of the round is 1.59 inches. Its maximum pressure is 35,000 psi with an average muzzle velocity of 1,090 feet per second (fps).
.357 Mag vs. .357 SIG
In the 1990s, Federal Premium joined Swiss-German firearms manufacturer SIG Sauer to create a round to rival the popular .357 Magnum. The team wanted to duplicate the performance and versatility of the .357 Mag while giving shooters a cartridge with a higher capacity. SIG originally designed the ammo to be .357 in, but it was cut down to .355 in for easier reloading.
SIG wanted to use the ammo to tap into the law enforcement market. Surprisingly, the smaller, but equally powerful .357 SIG never caught on. Still, it is used by target shooters and people interested in carrying for self-defense.
Popularity and Use
The .357 Magnum revolver quickly became a favorite with law enforcement and military personnel. Soldiers and officers carried the gun throughout WWII and the Vietnam War. General George S. Patton is one of the weapon’s most notable fans; he carried an ivory handled S&W .357 Magnum on one hip and another ivory handled, single action .45 Long Colt on the other.
The Vietnam War didn’t end the popularity of the .357 Magnum. Security guards, police officers, and members of the U.S. Special Forces tote the famous gun and ammo. Although it has been replaced in most instances with semi-automatic pistols, the .357 still has its place among law enforcement as a backup weapon.
Firearms enthusiasts, law enforcement officers and hunters still choose the .357 Magnum, which is why it is still one of the most popular high-velocity cartridges on the market today.