Gun designer John Browning was employed by Colt Manufacturing at the turn of the 20th century, at a time when American military planners were looking for the right gun with more knock-down than the .38 Long Colt Revolver. As a stop-gap, the U.S. recalled the Model 1873 single-action revolver, but what was needed was a more powerful, self-loading, close-quarter gun chambered for hard-hitting .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP). And the Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45 M1911 was born.
During World War I, more than 70 million military personnel were mobilized worldwide. The war machines of most every nation were running at full capacity, churning out armaments of war.
The Colt M1911 has a slow, heavy bullet, precisely what military planners deemed necessary. But every gun maker in America was running at full capacity, building Model 1911s for the war. So the Army decided to fill the gap by modifying existing revolvers, guns larger than .38 caliber, deemed inadequate man stoppers, to augment the severe shortage of Colt Model 1911 autoloaders.
It was decided that existing, heavy framed revolvers would be enlisted-built by rivals S&W and Colt. It was wartime-and the two gun makers could get over any petty rivalries.
Winning the war was paramount.
And the Model 1917 Revolver, chambered in .45 ACP was born.
But which revolvers to modify?
Colt had the Model 1909, a heavy-frame, .45 version of the .45 Long Colt. So the Colt answer to the Model 1917 dilemma became a modified M1909 with the cylinder bored out to suit .45 ACP.
The Colt M1917 is a double-action revolver that employs a swing-out cylinder. This six-shooter has a blade front and square-notch rear sight. The gun weighs 2.5 pounds. The Colt M1917 has a muzzle velocity of 800 fps, and its main drawback was that the shell casings had to be poked loose.
Smith & Wesson's answer to the Model 1917 problem was resolved using a modified Model 10. Its modified Hand Ejector, turned S&W M1917, used an abbreviated cylinder to allow the half-moon clips that chambered .45 ACP ammunition.
Both the Smith & Wesson and Colt Model 1917 revolvers are similar in appearance, the former sporting a lanyard ring reminiscent of many of the great British revolvers. S&W stats are identical to those of the Colt M1917-the exception being that the S&W revolver has a rear “V” notch sight and the Colt has a square, notch rear sight. All three guns-the M1911 autoloader and the Colt and S&W M1917 have nearly identical stats and shoot .45 ACP. The 1911 weighs slightly more and has 2 rounds greater ammunition capacity-7 rounds in the detachable, in-line, box magazine-and one in the hole.