Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman, revolver, handgun, pistol

Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman

Some guns, especially Smith & Wesson models from the glory days of law enforcement revolvers, have names indicating their intended customers.

By Rick Hacker (RSS)
May 20, 2011

Back when revolvers ruled the law enforcement roost, there were a number of notable sidearms with names that left no doubt as to their intended markets. The Smith & Wesson Military & Police, Bodyguard and Chiefs Special are a few that come to mind. 

But, perhaps none bore so noble a moniker as the Highway Patrolman. While the words Highway Patrolman may cause some to ease up on the gas and check the rearview mirror, I immediately think of a syndicated television series that ran from 1955 to 1959. 

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The Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman revolver appeared on April 15, 1954, a year before the first episode of “Highway Patrol” aired. It can’t be denied the TV show’s popularity had a positive effect on sales of Smith & Wesson’s newest N frame. But the Highway Patrolman didn’t need additional publicity to win over the law enforcement agencies ordering it. They had been attracted to the big double action because of its .357 Mag. chambering, the cartridge for which it was designed. In fact, the cartridge indirectly inspired this no-frills double action. 

The genesis of the Highway Patrolman began in 1930, when, in response to requests for a cartridge with more power than the .38 Spl. used in most service revolvers, Smith & Wesson came out with a new load, the .38/.44 S&W Spl. It was the pre-war version of today’s +P cartridges. Chambered in what was essentially a Third Model Hand Ejector, the revolver was renamed it the 38/44 Heavy Duty. Thus, you had a beefed-up .38 Spl. revolver built on a .44-caliber frame that could handle the increased velocity and pressure of the new round. 

Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman, revolver, handgun, pistol

Countersunk chambers helped speed reloads, a critical consideration when law enforcement officers were issued revolvers.

 

But, there was a problem; the .38 Spl. High-Velocity cartridge, as the .38/.44 S&W Spl. was often called, could also be chambered in weaker, smaller-framed .38 Spl. revolvers, something that would have caused coronaries among today’s attorneys. Nonetheless, the new .38/.44 Heavy Duty proved popular. Meanwhile, noted gun writer and ballistician Phil Sharp had been experimenting with high-velocity .38 Spl. loads, and finally convinced Smith & Wesson’s Doug Wesson, who in turn convinced the research and development folks at Winchester to develop an even more-powerful cartridge than the .38 Spl. High Velocity. This time, however, to avoid any potential accidents, the case was lengthened 1⁄8 inch so it couldn’t be chambered in a .38 Spl. revolver. They named this new elongated cartridge the .357 Mag. 

The .357 Mag. became the most-powerful handgun cartridge in the world, a title it held until 1955, when the .44 Mag. claimed the crown. Although the .357 Mag. boasted more than three times the energy of the .38 Spl., no one knew how this new, harder-recoiling cartridge would be received. So, to cautiously showcase it, Smith & Wesson planned to chamber its new cartridge only in N-frame revolvers that were individually ordered and registered to the owners. Thus, the Registered Magnum was introduced in 1935. In essence, these were custom-built revolvers, with a variety of barrel lengths ranging from 3.5 to 8 3⁄8 inches with sights, grips, triggers and finishes to satisfy purchasers. 

Needless to say, the .357 Mag. cartridge and revolver were heartily embraced by law enforcement agencies. The overwhelming success of the .357 Mag. and the complexity of producing so many variants on a single N-frame model forced Smith & Wesson to standardize the Registered Magnum in 1939, dropping the registration elements, offering only optional barrel lengths and changing the name to simply the .357 Mag. Each gun was still impeccably hand-fitted and polished. 

Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman, revolver, handgun, pistol

Both the hammer and the trigger were casehardened on the Highway Patrolman, ensuring years of reliable use.

 

Unfortunately, all this hand fitting of parts and high-gloss finishing came with a price tag that put the .357 Mag. out of financial reach for many lawmen and their agencies. According to the classic book, “History of Smith & Wesson,” by Roy Jinks, “…Inquiries from such agencies as the Texas Highway Patrol were directed to the possibility of manufacturing an inexpensive .357 Magnum handgun for use by law enforcement. [Smith & Wesson president] C.R. Helstrom discussed the problem with his engineers and it was determined that a revolver could be manufactured that had the smoothness of Smith & Wesson lockwork, but would do away with the cosmetic beauty of the revolver.” 

Thus, in 1954, the aptly named Highway Patrolman was introduced. It can best be described as a field grade of the more cosmetically enhanced .357 Mag. Its finish was a military-style matte blue, and a sandblasted brush texture replaced the more costly serrated topstrap and barrel rib. Actually, these non-reflective features made the Highway Patrolman a more practical law enforcement handgun. Only two barrel lengths were offered—4 and 6 inches. Shooting was aided by a grooved trigger and serrated backstrap and surprisingly, Smith & Wesson retained the adjustable micrometer rear sight, pairing it with a Baughman Quick Draw front ramp. The only options were standard or oversized walnut grips. 

None of the cost-cutting external features detracted from the gun, for internally, it still possessed the fit and function of the more expensive .357 Mag. Consequently, the Highway Patrolman became one of the company’s most popular revolvers, and remained in the line until 1986. Some rare variations include approximately five brushed-nickel salesman’s samples and 25 nickeled guns with 5-inch barrels for the Florida Highway Patrol. 

Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman, revolver, handgun, pistol

Despite marketing the Highway Patrolman for duty use, the pistol contained a micrometer-style rear sight adjustable for windage and elevation.

 

A few years ago, inspired by its rugged good looks and reputation for reliability, I obtained a used Highway Patrolman with a 6-inch barrel. I don’t know how many rounds it digested before I got it, but with Winchester’s 158-grain Jacketed Soft Points, it prints 2.5-inch groups at 25 yards—not a tack-driver, but good for close-range work, its intended purpose. 

Ironically, throughout the “Highway Patrol” TV series, the star—Broderick Crawford—carried a Smith & Wesson Model 10 snubby. 

In 1957 the revolver was renamed the Model 28. But for many of us, it will always be the Highway Patrolman. And that, as Crawford would say, is “10-4” by me.

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Comments

22 Responses to Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman

  1. joe the shooter says:

    My taurus m44 is based on the smith m19 and its very well made and shoot very nice not bad for a taurus

  2. John L. Belanger says:

    I enjoyed the article on the 357 HWy Patrolman. I have a 357 Highway Patrolman Smith & Wessson made in Springfield Mass. Serial NO. S261180 brushed nickel fair to good condition.(nickle has only two small chips) 4 inch barrel. I purchased it in 1971. It was told to me that they gave 3 of these guns to first time on the marke directly off the line to La. Governor one, Head of State Police one and One to Troop C Commander. I got that one. Can you tell me possible the age, and possible value now. I just wanted to know. I do not want to sell.

  3. Dun says:

    The 27/28 Smiths are as good as any Colt, even the Python for fit and function. Probably stronger than the Python, if not quite as pretty. Not afraid to carry it in the outdoors for fear of getting a scratch on that mirror finish!

  4. D Jackson says:

    My wife inherited a pre-serial number vintage Hwy Patrolman with 4″ barrel. There is no model number or serial number on the gun anywhere. It does carry the Hwy Patrolman name and logo on the right hand side. I’m assuming that it’s vintage must be pre-1968, when serial numbers were first required.

    Is there a value difference for earlier versions not labeled as “Model 28″, etc.?

  5. mike says:

    Smith & Wesson numbered their guns from day one. The Highway Patrolman should be numbered on the bottom of the grip frame (oversize grips will cover this), and also on the frame where it is visible when the cylinder is open. The model number is also stamped there. If there is no model number, your gun could be a “pre-28″, made before 1957. The serial number on older guns will start with an “S”, later guns with an “N”.

  6. mike says:

    Great artical! I have this gun. It belongd to my grand father who was once the chief of police in my home town of Greer SC. Now i know a little more about the gun my grand father once used.

    Mobile Comment

  7. jim says:

    i have just got that gun, it is pre-1957 it has a (s) it is a highway to it wood be nice to now wen it was made the year.?

  8. Steve says:

    Thank you for the in depth history and birth on the highway patrolman. I recently bought one yesterday. The N frame looks a little threatening but could not resist saying ill take it!

  9. Michael M. Bystrzycki, Sr. says:

    I just acquired a Highway Patrolman with a factory 4″ barrel in NRA 80%. I had an unfortunate failure with a polymer semi at an inopportune time, and decided to return to the dependabilty of a wheelgun. I have always known of these, and am of the age to remember these on the hip of the highway troopers where I grew up. A host of grips, speedloaders, etc., abound for this weapon and with practice, I can reload as fast with this as I could with any 1911. Glad to see wheelguns regaining some respect.

  10. steven cook says:

    today i just bought a smith model 28-2 i see its got a n series the gun shop man said he bought it from a retired florida state trooper an its got a five in barrel i think i got a goo deal i paid 350 dollars id like to learn more about it another man in shop offered me 500 for it im trying to find its real value

  11. Martin Ward says:

    I bought a Highway Patrol man 4in about a week ago in upstate NY in excellent condition 98[%] [(]the ssn# indicates that the model is from 1978[)] the price was a little steep $550.00+Tax . The original price was $575.00. I managed to bring the price down by $25.00+free leather holster in almost new condition [(]same holster on Ebay feched $ 100.00[)] . Origionally I wanted to purchase a Ruger 100 4 in stainless. I went to all gun stores and was told that their orders are backed up by at least 6 months. Over all I am happy with my purchase. This one is a keeper and my first revolver. I take this one over Ruger GP 100 any time.omments…

    • Indiana Mike says:

      Martin Ward. You just got a very nice revolver. I have a 4″ also and it is powerful, heavy and strong. I keep it in my nightstand and it gives a sense of confidence unseen in any of my other handguns except my Colt 1911 .45 GI Model. When it’s 3AM, I’m half asleep and somebody is in the house, one of those two handguns is gonna be in my hand. The plastic pistols just don’t feel substantial for self defence and I have two of them.

      • martin ward says:

        I love this revolver I wouldn’t sell it for anything. To me it’s a keeper.

        They don’t make them like they use too.

  12. Danny Owens says:

    I recently obtained a 1955 nickel highway patrolman 4′ bbl. it is as tight as the day of mfg. and shoots better than any revolver I’ve ever owned.

  13. Edward says:

    Thank you for the informative article. I have had a model 28 6″ with a scope since 1992 and have never found a better handgun. My son and I have always felt this gun was like cheating because it so darn accurate and easy to shoot. I will never get rid of this gun.

  14. Arlie says:

    I have a Highway Patrolman and I love it. The grips are really badly worn, and I am looking for some oem replacements. Any ideas?

  15. Scotty says:

    I’m looking at acquiring a blued S&W model 28-2, 5″ bbl, S/N: N248XXX. I’m told it’s DoM is 1976. Pachmayr grips, damaged rear sight, numerous surface rust spots (kept on holster), no original grips/box/docs. Offered $300 for it. I’m told 5″ barrels are very rare, only 25 or so made. Am told that many 6″ barrels are cut down to 5″. Can the S/N indicate if it was originally made as a 6″? Any tips on where to get original grips & replacement rear sight? S&W says they’ll remove the rust spots & refinish (blue or nickel) for $220-$275. Is this worth it, or does it actually detract from the gun’s value?
    Many thanks for any help from the experts!

  16. Stacie says:

    I just inherited a 357 smith and Wesson from my dad. The numbers I found inside the chamber are m96055 mod. 28-2 then 90724. It’s in near mint condition with the wooden grip. I’m trying to find out as much info as possible as we are selling off the collection. I feel this is the most valuable gun I now own. Can anyone tell me anything I need to know from these numbers? It’s not the 4 inch it is definately longer [(] apparently I need to measure to see if it’s 5 or 6 inch [)]
    I greatly appreciate any info and would consider any reasonable offer by email.
    Thanks in advance

  17. Michael says:

    As a trooper with the Washington State Patrol, I was issued a model 28 as a cadet in 1979, and carried it [(]cross draw, we didn’t have a choice at the time[)] until I believe, 1989, when we went to the Beretta semi auto. My .357 serial number is S303626. I would love to know how old it was when it was issued to me. It shoots like a dream to this day. It is stamped ‘wash. st. Patrol’.

  18. Jaise says:

    I recently bought a patrolman 357 and all the serial numbers match on the gun… Its serial number is S1110… If what I think I’ve researched and found is that it was made in the end of 1954…. That would make it a first year if it is and I would say it’s in 90[%] original condition…. The beauty of this is I bought a guitar for 250 and sold it for 500, and then turned and gave that 500 for the pistol to this older man… Who knew it was rare just wanted me to have it…. So I guess the only question I really have is… What is the value of it?…. I technically only have $250 in it….. I mean I don’t think they get much nicer unless you happen to be pulling a brand new one out of a box… Any help anyone?

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