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Smith & Wesson Semi Automatic Pistols

Smith & Wesson Semi Automatic Pistols

The modern Smith & Wesson semi automatic pistols, starting with the Model 39 in the mid 1950s were among the first pistols to start to supplant the revolver as the standard police side arm.

In the early 1980s, S&W introduced the so called “Second Generation” semi autos, which had design improvements and changes over the First Generation guns.

In the late 1980s, the company introduced the “Third Generation” guns, which have even more improvements and wider array of model options.

At that time, S&W introduced a seemingly dizzying number of models in a variety of calibers. There were models in 10mm, 9mm, .45ACP, and .40 S&W. The last caliber gained significant popularity as a compromise between what was considered an underpowered 9mm and the .45ACP that was powerful, but had limited magazine capacity.

There were so many models that S&W sales staff had a model selector wheel that allowed them to dial up the combinations of features desired and come up with a model number. There were Traditional Double Action (TDA) models, Double Action Only (DAO) models, models with the safety/decocker on the frame, models with the safety/decocker on the frame, decocker only models with the decocker on the slide, models with magazine disconnects, models without magazine disconnects, night sights, no night sights, Performance Center models, two different versions of “TSW” models, and – well you get the point.

S&W would even make special variations for agencies, if the agency was large enough and/or was willing to pay for the modifications.

Police agencies large and small adopted various models. Among them, the Los Angeles PD, NYPD, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the California Highway Patrol, Memphis PD, and others I can’t even think of right now.

Then, all of a sudden, it all changed. A polymer framed striker fired, semi automatic pistol from an Austrian company burst on to the scene. Glock had no firearms history before introducing it’s first model, but had extensive history with polymer plastics. It’s design was ground breaking, reliable, and also less expensive to produce than a firearm with a metal frame. By the time the Third Generation guns were introduced, Glock was on it’s way to dominating the police market that S&W had owned for almost 100 years.

Smith & Wesson had, and still has, extensive experience with forging handgun frames and other items. If you were to go to 2100 Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield, MA tomorrow morning you’d see the forge pounding out frames for revolvers and 1911 pattern handguns. What you wouldn’t see is that forge pounding out frames for Third Generation semi automatic pistols.

That’s because starting in 2006, with the introduction of the M&P polymer framed guns, S&W phased out production of what had been the most popular law enforcement semi auto ever. Metal framed semi automatic pistols just can’t compete on a cost basis with polymer framed semi automatic pistols. While Beretta and Sig Sauer still produce and sell them, S&W just couldn’t seem to do that at a profit. The people who run that company somehow decided that the money was in 1911 pattern guns, even though virtually every company out there makes a version of that venerable design. Well, except for Glock, that is.

S&W was still, reluctantly, making some Third Generation guns for large agencies that absolutely refused to switch over to polymer framed guns, but still wanted S&W. Mostly they didn’t want new designs, just continued and improved production of the guns they already had. The CHP wanted a full sized .40 S&W semi auto with a stainless steel frame. So, S&W continued to make the Model 4006TSW, but with significant improvements. They are just now starting to replace those with M&P 40 guns. Which means that there are going to be a large number of used 4006TSW pistols out there for sale over the next couple of years. Which is good if you want a reliable as the sun rising in the east pistol that you can also use to beat your adversary with.

Even though the Third Generation guns were removed from the consumer catalog in 2006, there were small batches made up until 2015. Many of these were made from parts that were kept in reserve for repairs of guns still in police service. Those were produced and released to the market as time and components allowed. They don’t seem to last on store shelves very long because people who know how good they are snap them up pretty quickly.

Some agencies still allow officers to carry Third Generation pistols, but new officers don’t get that option.

During the ultimately losing battle with the polymer gun companies, S&W tried to change the design of the Third Generation guns to make them less expensive to build. These were the “Value Line” guns. These were still reliable and accurate, but short cuts were taken during the machining and finishing to cut production costs. There were a variety of models from full size down to the sub compact “Chiefs Special” versions.

It wasn’t enough and now no more are being made.

Fortunately, there are enough of them out there that pre owned guns in various conditions can be found.

Which brings us to today’s subject.

The Model 457 was a Value Line .45 ACP semi automatic. It was classified as a “Compact” 45 because of it’s smaller frame and magazine capacity. It has an alloy frame, and comes in either carbon or stainless steel versions. The stainless versions look a lot like the all stainless 4516, but is considerably lighter. It’s more akin to the alloy frame/stainless slide 4513TSW, but not as smoothly finished.

Still, it’s a Traditional Double Action semi automatic 7+1 pistol. The Third Generation guns are renowned for both their reliability and ruggedness and the 457 is no exception. They rarely break and are easy to maintain as long as you remember a few things.

A lot of people keep hoping that Smith & Wesson will bring at least some of these fine pistols back, but I don’t expect that to happen. I’d be more than satisfied if they’d keep repairing them and make a selection of parts available.

First, they need to be cleaned and lubricated properly. Lubrication is especially important for the alloy framed guns, as improper lubrication can lead to frame damage. That’s a death sentence because S&W doesn’t have any spare frames and won’t repair a cracked one.

Recoil springs are cheap and easy to replace on the Third Generation guns. Anytime I buy a “new to me” one, it gets field stripped, cleaned, lubricated, and I install a new recoil spring. The factory recommends a new spring every 5,000 rounds, and considering how inexpensive they are (for the most part), it’s silly not to do that. Not that most of us fire nearly that many rounds.

As you can probably tell, I like these guns. A lot. I have a number of them, and in fact other than a Walther P22 and Bersa Thunder 380CC all of my semi autos are Third Generation guns.

The 457 is light enough to carry, although I generally carry a 9mm, comfortably all day. Several companies still make holsters for them and holsters and other accessories for the 4516 will fit perfectly.

The downside is that no one, including S&W makes magazines any longer, so the can be hard to find. The good news is if you find one with a good magazine body, the rest of the parts are still plentiful. Availability of parts for the guns themselves varies widely. That’s true for all of the Third Generation guns, and some parts are almost unavailable. That’s the down side of owning and shooting these guns. The good part is that they hardly ever break and there are some smaller parts that are common among many models.

If you keep these guns cleaned, lubed, and filled with fresh springs, they’ll function reliably for years and years.

They are also among the most accurate pistols out there. Friends who have shot my other 457 have compared it favorably to 1911 pistols that cost well over $1,000. The gun pictured below, which I haven’t fired yet, cost me under $375.00 out the door. I’m looking forward to nicer weather so I can run it through it’s paces at a nearby range.

A few pictures because a gun article is pretty useless without pictures.

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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.


  1. Nice! My dad had a 39. I had one for awhile, but had to pay for tuition, so, like a few firearms I had when I was young, went away. I don’t know which sibling got dad’s gun. The last time I saw it, There were 9mm cases ricocheting around in the cab of his truck as he tried to shoot a coyote that I pointed out. He didn’t really care much about who got what gun. At least, I got the M1. and the Mossberg M46, the gun I grew up with, out on the ranch. There were no squirrels, or crows. I shot a Mourning dove out of the top of a 150 ft. cottonwood while sitting in the canoe, one afternoon in the slough… in a Federal game refuge. Jail me.

    • I could compile a list of the guns that I couldn’t buy when I was younger because of work, school, young kids, new house, whatever. Or the ones that I traded towards new guns, but should have kept. I never trade in guns any more because it’s as bad a deal as trading in cars. Used guns have a much higher profit margin for the dealer.

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