RIA: Smith & Wesson Model 1913 Automatic Pistols (Video)

Smith & Wesson’s first venture into the autoloading pistol market was done under the leadership of Joe Wesson, Daniel Wesson’s son. He was quite the automatic pistol enthusiast, and made an agreement to license patents of Liege designer Charles Clement for adaptation into a pistol for the US market.

The resulting Model 1913 featured a hinged barrel assembly for easy cleaning and a very light bolt with a mainspring disconnector, so the bolt could be cycled without fighting the recoil spring. It also had both a manual safety and a grip safety. However, its most recognized feature was the use of a proprietary .35 S&W cartridge. Despite the name, this was basically a slightly underpowered .32 ACP with a “half-mantle” bullet – the nose was jackets to prevent deformation while the bearing surface was left unjacketed to reduce barrel wear. While this was potentially quite popular, S&W’s marketing failed to properly exploit it.

The .35 S&W version of the Model 1913 saw production of about 8350 pistols between 1913 and 1921. In 1924 the design was reintroduced in a simplified form. This new model was chambered for the standard .32ACP cartridge form the get-go, and it also abandoned the manual safety and the tip-up barrel system originally licensed from Clement. It failed to gain traction, with less than a thousand guns made, and the last of them not sold until 1937.


  1. The gun that kept S&W exclusively into revolvers until the Model 39. It’s a quirky gun, especially the “dial” for the manual safety located on the grip.

  2. It seems That Mr. Joe made a wrong choice to start with automatic pistol production. Clement pistol had a very light breechblock even for its initial .25 ACP caliber. Carrying the same construction to a heavier round with similar lay out would fail to stand against heavier recoil force of a round being nearly equal to .32 ACP. The recoil spring disconnecting should be made to overcome the difficuties to manualy tracking of the breechbolt connected to the extra heavy recoil spring used. However, this spring would not provide needed blowback delay at instant of highest pressure in the barrel, but would provide an effective cushioning against to the punch created by small and very swift recoiling breechbolt. There would, of course, a returning journey of this breechbolt with a gained speed through compressed very stiff recoil spring producing wear and tear against to the barrel contacting sections which being undesirable. A failure needing no prediction.

    Model 32 seems corrected much of the issues coming from light breechbolt, as using a full size slide, but using the separate breechbolt should be a necessity by cause of the different slide attachment method used.

    • “Clement pistol (…) initial .25 ACP caliber”
      To be exact first caliber for Clement automatic pistol was 5×18 cartridge:
      (first Clement pistol is from 1903, i.e. before .25 Auto cartridge existed)
      According to 5mm Clement query in wikipedia it fires 28gr (FMJ) @ 1030fps
      According to .25 ACP query in wikipedia it fires 50gr (FMJ) @ 760fps
      Assuming information above are true then
      MOMENTUM(5mmClement) = 28*1030 = 28840
      MOMENTUM(.25ACP) = 50*760 = 38000
      Which might explain why it has light breech-block for caliber.

      • 5x18mm cartridge which being of “Bottle Neck” variety, was designed for Spanish Charolla Anitua pistol using this round with a breech lock mechanicaly much similar to the Itaian Glisenti Model 1913. Bottle Necked rounds transmit bigger momentum than those of the Kinds of the paralel sided versions and Clement pistols manufactured afterwards using that round in blowback system with a light breechbolt should be considered as a real oddity.

        • ““Bottle Neck”” but notice that 5mm cartridge anyway has smaller base diameter than .25 Auto.
          https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Свободный_затвор has also formula for minimal mass for usage with imperial units which stand:
          M = 1.09 * 10^-5 * m * Vb * (D / d)^2 where
          M – mass of moving parts (pounds), m – mass of bullet (pounds), Vb – bullet velocity (fps), D – diameter of зеркало затвора (don’t know American parlance – that surface that touch cartridge case bottom, when weapon ready to fire)(inch), d – case base diameter (inch).
          I don’t know D-value for Clement, but assuming it is equal that is same for both we get for:
          5x18mm (28gr @ 1030fps):
          m = 0.004, Vb = 1030, d = 0.2803 which give
          10^-5 * 4.4908 * (D/0.2803)^2 = D^2 * 10^-5 * 57.15806506
          6.35mm – .25 Auto (50gr @ 760fps):
          m = 0.0071, Vb = 760, d = 0.2976 (notice that .25 Auto has bigger base diameter) which give
          10^-5 * 5.8816 * (D/0.2976)^2 = D^2 * 10^-5 * 66.40941149
          So assuming that D-values are equal then 5x18mm has lower minimal mass of moving parts.

          • I failed and used rim diameters instead of base diameter, it should be:
            for 5mm it has no meaning because base diameter = rim diameter
            for 6.35mm it should be d = 0.2748 and hence result equals D^2 * 10^-5 * 77.88647135
            So values changed but general outcome remain: 5×18 has lighter minimal mass of moving parts than 6.35mm, Considering this fixes for 5mm cartridge minimal mass is circa 73% of this for 6.35mm.
            (still assuming that D-values are equal in both cases)

          • Interesting formula. “D” should stand for “Diameter of Bolt Face, or diameter of Case Rim” and “d” should stand for “Diameter of Bullet”. There is no info about “D” for 5mm Clement round but some photos and in fact seeming nearly equal to 6.35mm’s which is 7.5mm. From which, 1.4 D/d square value for 6.35 and 2.25 value for 5mm. Knowing that the 5mm initial velocity is higher than 6.35 and the other sides of formula being same, this should bring us to a bigger mass for 5mm breechbolt weight. However, this proves nothing since nowhere in my related post includes such a comparison. What I wanted to say was, the half size breechbolt weight of 6.35 mm Clement should be lighter than other full sized same aged samples. Take it easy Daweo…We are all friends.

          • “sides of formula being same”
            m-value for both cartridges are not equal

            ““d” should stand for “Diameter of Bullet””
            Yes, I didn’t read it carefully enough, try again (now correctly I hope):
            for 5mm, d = 0.2 gives result D^2 * 10^-5 * 112.27
            for 6,35mm, d = 0.25 gives result D^2 * 10^-5 * 94.1056
            ok this finally make sense

          • “Dyuymy (for dimension) “funty” (mass)…
            what is it about? I imagine the first is Inches. Is the second Grains?

            The formula is fancy and different to what I am used to. I do not see a reason for considering casing base diameter in free recoil calculation (as is in case of straight pistol cartridge). I believe the formula is concerned with initial opening stage just before free recoil takes place.

    • “Model 32”
      Photos and drawings: http://www.historicalfirearms.info/post/135144785857/smith-wesson-32-automatic-pistol-smith
      it also states that this automatic pistol fail market-wise because
      pistol was expensive to manufacture costing up to 30% more to build than rival designs from companies like Colt. As such retail prices were high and sales of the pistol were poor
      Also depression which started few years after its introduction, surely didn’t help.

    • Spring tension doesn’t do anything to delay the opening of the breech,

      what the very strong spring does, is to decelerate that light and hence fast moving breechblock,

      and to provide the forward force to chamber the next round, as that light breech block doesn’t have much inertia to achieve that.

      • You are right on that count, Keith.

        Recoil can be handled more effectively by rubber/ elastomeric buffer of sort. Sometimes (especially on rifle calibres) recoil spring effect is not even part of recoil equation. I consider strong recoil spring as attempt to either cope with extra powerful round or to offset for light bolt to be double edged approach to solution since it poses potential problem for harsh/unreliable feeding, part of mentioned difficulty of loading fist shot. Not really good way of doing it.

    • If noticed, SW Model 1913 uses the same approach with Dreyse Model 1910 in 9mm Para., to cushion the recoiling punch of light breechbolt and most probably was inspired of it. Smith Wesson staffs had made several experiments with different breechbolt weights eventually reaching abnormal widths to get rid of costy recoil spring disconnect mechanism without success. If searched, it would be possible to find their details in the old date “Gun Digests”

      • From beginning of the last century to 1970, it proved that, efforts to prevent the wear and tear of the gun parts caused by the very fast recoiling breechbolt or slide through the powerfull recoil springs were useless. Because, the compression of stiff recoil springs would give back the same violent punch at the returning stage of the recoiling elements giving similar wear and tear to the parts and engagements at the foremost station of this journey, with a negative bonus of very fast feeding from magazine to the barrel which needing a perfect balance of the related parts springs. In 1970, HK VP70 found a very clever method to overcome this issue as using a special recoil absorber located under the breech end of barrel, as slowing down and spreading the slide punch through “Brake Rings” located at the front section of this absorber, as granting aN easiness of using standart powered recoil springs, and in fact, the following model P7, should be considered as a continuation of this concept, with a difference that of using the “Gas Brake” for this purpose. All new pocket sized 9mm’s should also be considered as the “Follower” of this approach. IMHO.

        • I’ve never studied the VP70 buffer.

          A stack of Belville washers is a fairly compact and conventional approach to providing a buffer, it effectively works as a very inefficient spring, that dissipates some of the energy that is put into compressing it, in the form of frictional heating (multi leaf truck springs do a similar job).

          There’s a similar effect from a stack of rubber balls in a tight fitting tube. In order to compress the stack, they have to expand outwards and that causes friction against the tube. That used to be used in aircraft undercarriage, but tends to be a bit too long and too short lived for use in guns.

          The gas buffer is brilliant (even though it can make the gun hot) it’s light and it’s stiffest at the time of recoil and pressure bleeds out so it is softer for the return stroke. It’s a sort of high pressure gas filled dashpot.

          For longer guns, it’s possible to use a weight with a stiffer spring behind it that will reciprocate back and forth several times, deccellerating the bolt in a series of impacts or bounces with springs in between. That was used in Sterling SMGs.

          I just had a look to see how much Alsop & Popelinski is selling for now. It has a whole chapter on buffers

          Amazon says I can trade my copy in for a $2.50 Amazon gift certificate. I won’t be taking them up on that offer (cheeky buggers) https://www.amazon.com/Brasseys-Essential-Guide-Military-Small/dp/1857531078/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465578371&sr=1-1&keywords=brassey%27s+military+small+arms

          I see the cheapest copy on offer is $960.64 and the priciest second hand copy is on offer at $14,950

          • That sounds like fancy book for fancy price. Well, Popelinsky (author) name has some renome. I read some reviews and they are generally positive. This is unfortunately out of my range.

  3. Considering some the anemic cartridges pocket pistols chambered back in the early 1900s, one would get the impression that humans were incredibly easy to kill or disable back in those days.

  4. Very interesting gun! I was expecting some kind of Browning 1900 copy but it actually seems pretty unique.

  5. The fit and finish of the 1924 version is beautiful, considering its age. Then again, that could mean no one liked it enough to use it much.

  6. Thanks Ian, I had wondered about this gun ever since seeing a picture of it in Sixguns by Keith.

  7. This is really nicely thought out pistol and rather attractive one. It attests that early 20th century was lively ground for automatic pistols in America. Previously, part of 39/59 models and follow-ups, I was considering SW to be primarily revolver makers and this is new and quite refreshing information.

    Thanks for detailed explanation and mention of .35cal round. The way of thinking about it makes lots of sense.

  8. I have a S&W semi-auto .35cal. In excellent condition .
    If you like I can send ss# & pictures .
    Thank You Dan 270-384-6556 cell 270-378-0380
    asking $500.00

  9. I was wondering if this pistol screamed kolibri to you guys at some point, because it reminds me of a scaled up kolibri

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