The First M&P

The Smith and Wesson Military and Police Hand Ejector Model of 1899


by Mike Cumpston

photography by Mike Cumpston

January 16th, 2003




The first .38 Special revolver

Swing out cylinder, solid frame, double action revolvers were well established by the last decade of the 19th century.  Iver Johnson employed the concept as early as 1879 and Colt’s Models of 1889-90, chambered for the .38 Long Colt cartridge were the standard U.S. Military sidearm by the early 1890s. Smith and Wesson called their version a “ Hand Ejector” to differentiate if from the break –top, automatic ejection arms of the time. In 1899, the Army and Navy placed orders with Smith and Wesson for two to three thousand (sources vary as to the exact number) Hand Ejector revolvers chambered for the .38 U.S. Service Cartridge (Long Colt.). It became the Military and Police model of 1899. The need for these additional revolvers arose during the Spanish- American War.  These revolvers, along with the very similar Colts were in service during the Philippine insurrection of 1899. Early sources universally report that the old Long Colt cartridge was considered inadequate against the Moro warriors encountered there.   Smith and Wesson responded by lengthening the .38 case and increasing the powder charge and bullet weight.   Nominal velocity of the new .38 S&W Special cartridge was 870 feet per second against the reported 780 fps of the earlier round.  Bullet weight increased from 150 to 158 grains and the black powder charge upped from 18 to 21 grains.  It is clear that the military contract revolvers chambered the .38 Long Colt round.  Early references indicate that the .38 Specials might have gone to the civilian market.  Serial number run from number 1 in the K Frame Military and Police series to 20,975 spanning the years 1899- 1902.

At a glance, the model of 1899 appears nearly identical to the quintessential M&P of the 20th century.  The primary visible difference is the absence of a front locking lug.  The cylinder locks only at the rear and at the locking notches leaving the ejector free standing.  Barrel lengths are four, five, six and six and a half inches with finish options of blue and nickel. There are also target-sighted versions. These and serial number blocks-associated with small military orders, are very desirable as collectors items. 

First Model M&P revolvers often exhibit the extremes of neglect. Black powder, chlorate priming and owner indifference take their toll among many examples. They do not fare nearly as well as the hand ejectors of 1902 and later. 

Mine, number 8200, has only minor finish blemishes and is in near-new mechanical condition. The cylinder and crane lock tightly into the frame and timing is perfect. The bore and chambers are pristine and the internal lockwork - once relieved of decades of congealed lubricant - might well have been forged last week instead of 103 years ago. According to the factory letter, the revolver went to Bekeart & Company of San Francisco CA on December 20, 1900. Additional provenance shows the M&P registered to an E6 at Wheeler AFB, Hawaii in 1975 and has remained in his possession until this year.

Shooting the first .38 Special revolver

While the early Smith and Wessons resemble the Colt double actions in function and broad outline, I have always found the handling characteristics and the action of the Smiths to be much more desirable.  This is purely a personal opinion and the gun magazines used to rage over the question “ Which is Better? Colt or Smith and Wesson.”  M&P # 8200 with its frame fitting round butt and six- inch barrel points very well. The sight picture, comprised of a knife-sharp front blade and a tiny rear notch proved to be the limiting factor in shooting precise groups. On the other hand, the four pound single action trigger and the typically smooth Smith and Wesson Double Action, were great aides to practical accuracy.  Many service revolvers and autos of the 19th and early 20th centuries feature raunchy six- pound single action triggers making it very hard to achieve any degree of precision. 

M&P cylinders were not heat treated until 1920 so standard; factory level pressures are the order of the day.

My standard .38 Special load is 3.5 grains of Alliant Bullseye and the available 158- grain Lead bullet.   This is a few tenths grain under the listed factory duplicate and the tightly gapped Model 1899 averaged 859 fps with the swaged Hornady SWC and 862 with a five round string of machine cast 158 SWC. This and subsequent shooting was done in five shot strings.  The First M&P has no provision for a hammer block safety and while earlier owners no doubt loaded all six chambers with impunity, hindsight demands that we leave an empty under the hammer.

In keeping with shooting practices at the end of the 19th Century, I did most of my shooting one-handed.  This is how Walter Mitty’s dad would have done it and it captures the flavor of the era.  My 25 yard bench groups and fifty foot off hand efforts ran four inches.  I was unable to fully exploit the accuracy of the revolver because of the sight picture. Point of impact was dead on for elevation and slightly to left of point of aim.

The light recoil of the standard .38 Special and the superior handling qualities of the Smith Hand Ejector came into their own in the more “practical” shooting exercises. Firing double action single-handed with the shots spaced about one second apart, I was able to keep fifteen consecutive rounds in the center ring of the Texas Police Target at twenty-five yards.. The sights did not seem much of a handicap in this application. The revolver came very naturally up to point. A clear flash sight picture came about naturally and hung steady through the smooth double action pull. I also managed ten consecutive hits on the upper torso from a vertical braced position single action at fifty yards.

The Military and Police first model emerged as a dynamic reactive tool for the gunfighter of a century ago.  It continues to satisfy the essential criteria for a personal sidearm in the present day.

Mike Cumpston 


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This .38 Special Model 1899 Military and Police Hand Ejector left the factory on December 20, 1900.

  In 1900, the population of the United States reached 81,000,000. There were 144 miles of paved roads and 13,800 automobiles. William McKinley was president and Carry Nation was chopping up saloons with her ax. Buffalo Bill incorporated Cody Wyoming.  One in thirteen American homes had a telephone while one in seven had a bathtub.  The average age at death was 47.

It was the last year of the Victorian Era and the last year of the 19th Century.



This is the original .38 Special.  In the days when the horse and buggy was the dominant means of transportation and Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona were still western territories, it was a dynamic gunfighter’s tool.



The trigger return spring is a flat leaf separate from the mainspring.  The cylinder crane attaches to the frame by way of a spring loaded plunger rather than the screw used in later designs.  It has been called a “pre five screw four screw” by collectors.



In an age of tiny revolver sights, the M&P may well take the prize for the near absent sight picture.



  Patent dates range from 1884 to 1898.  Smith and Wesson brought out their first Hand Ejector Revolver in 1896 chambered for the new .32 S&W Long cartridge.



  From Roy Jinks 1975.  The revolver was shipped to the Phillip Bekeart Company in San Francisco.  Bekeart was an early Smith and Wesson enthusiast.  In 1911, at his behest, S&W the company introduced the Bekeart Target revolver.  This revolver became the basis for the famous 22-32 Kit Gun.



The 6” barrel, round butt M&P with its smooth action is a fine shooter. The limiting factor is the shooter’s ability to see the extremely small sights. They serve very well in good light and in applications where precision target accuracy is not the primary goal.



  The practical value of the first M&P is demonstrated at 30 feet and 25 yards.