The Smith & Wesson model 3 was a single-action, cartridge-firing, top-break revolver produced by Smith & Wesson from circa 1870 to 1915, and again recently as a reproduction by Smith & Wesson themselves, Armi San Marco, and Uberti.
It was produced in several variations and sub-variations, including both the "Russian Model", so named because it was supplied to military of the Russian Empire (41,000 No. 3`s were ordered in .44 caliber by the Imperial Russian Army in 1871), and the "Schofield" model, named after Major George W. Schofield, who made his own modifications to the Model 3 to meet his perceptions of the Cavalry`s needs, which Smith & Wesson incorporated into an 1875 design they named after the Major, planning to obtain significant military contracts for the new revolver.
The S&W Model 3 was originally chambered for the .44 S&W American and .44 Russian cartridges, and typically did not have the cartridge information stamped on the gun (as is standard practice for most commercial firearms). Model 3 revolvers were also later produced in an assortment of calibres, including .44 Henry Rimfire, .44-40, .32-44, .38-44, and .45 Schofield.
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Smith & Wesson produced large numbers of the Model 3, in three distinct models, for the Russian Empire by special order. The first was the 1st Model Russian (the original order design), and the Russian Ordnance Inspector mandated a number of improvements to the design, resulting in the 2nd Model Russian, with a final revision to the Russian design being known as the 3rd Model Russian.
Smith & Wesson nearly went bankrupt as a result of their Russian Contract production, as the Imperial government assigned a number of engineers and gunsmiths to reverse-engineer the Smith & Wesson design, and then began to produce copies of the revolver—both in their own arsenal at Tula and by contracting other manufacturers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe to manufacture copies of the revolver (a common practice at the time—Webley & Scott`s British Bulldog revolver was widely copied, too, by European and American gunsmiths).
The Russian and European copies of the S&W Model 3 revolver were generally of very high quality, but considerably cheaper than the S&W produced revolvers. This led to the Imperial government cancelling the order for significant quantities of Smith & Wesson–made revolvers (which Smith & Wesson had already produced), and delaying (or refusing) payment for the handguns that had already been delivered.
The U.S. Army adopted the .44 S&W American caliber Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver in 1870, making the Model 3 revolver the first standard-issue cartridge-firing revolver in US service. Most military pistols up until that point were black powder cap and ball revolvers, which were (by comparison) slow, complicated, and susceptible to the effects of wet weather.
In 1875 the US Ordnance Board granted Smith & Wesson a contract to outfit the military with Model 3 revolver incorporating the design improvements of Major George W. Schofield (known as the "Schofield revolver"), providing they could make the revolvers work with the .45 Colt (AKA ".45 Long Colt") ammunition already in use by the US military. Smith & Wesson instead developed their own, slightly shorter .45 caliber round, the .45 Schofield, otherwise known as the .45 S&W. When it became obvious in the field that the two cartridges would not work interchangeably in the Schofield (although they both worked in the Colt), the U.S. Government adopted the shorter .45 Schofield cartridge as the standard cartridge. Despite the change, old stocks of the longer .45 Colt rounds in the supply line caused the Army to drop most of the Schofields and continue with the Colt. Major Schofield had patented his locking system and earned a payment on each gun that Smith and Wesson sold, and at the time his older brother, John M. Schofield, was the head of the Army Ordnance Board and the political situation may have been the main issue for the early end of army sales.
Many of the S&W Model 3 Schofield revolvers saw service in the Indian Wars, and there are reports of them in use as late as the Spanish–American War and Philippine–American War. Like the other Smith and Wesson Model 3`s, they were also reportedly popular with lawmen and outlaws in the American West, and were reportedly used by Jesse James, John Wesley Hardin, Pat Garrett, Theodore Roosevelt, Virgil Earp, Billy the Kid, and many others. While the standard barrel length was 7", many Schofields were purchased as surplus by distributors, and had the barrels shortened to 5", and were refinished in nickel.
After the Spanish–American War of 1898, the US Army sold off all their surplus Schofield revolvers. The surplus Schofield revolvers were reconditioned by wholesalers and gunsmiths (at professional factory-quality level) with a considerable number offered for sale on the commercial market with a 5-inch barrel as well as the standard size barrel of 7 inches.
Of the most notable purchasers of these reconditioned model 3 Schofield revolvers was Wells Fargo and Company, who purchased the revolvers for use by Wells Fargo Road Agents and had the barrels shortened to a more concealable 5 inches length. These revolvers were then inspected by Wells Fargo armorer and uniquely stamped "W.F. & Co" or "Wells Fargo & Co", along with the original Smith & Wesson serial number re-stamped alongside the Wells Fargo stamping on the flat part of the barrel just forward of the barrel pivot as well as re-stamping any part of each revolver which had not originally been stamped or stamped in a location that would be difficult to view the serial number, when needed.
The Wells Fargo Schofield revolvers became so popular with collectors from the 1970s onwards that the unique Wells Fargo markings were being "counterfeited" or "faked" by unscrupulous sellers to enhance the value of other similar versions that had not been genuinely owned by Wells Fargo & Co. There are more "fake" Wells Fargo marked Schofield revolvers than genuine ones in existence and, accordingly, a collector interested in purchasing a "Wells Fargo" Schofield revolver would be well advised to have a pre-purchase inspection and verification performed by an expert who specializes in this model.
The Schofield was produced in two versions, the First Model Schofield and the Second Model Schofield. The First Model Schofield has a latch configuration that is rather pointed at the top and has a circle around the screw head at the bottom, whereas the Second Model latch has a large raised circle at the top of the latch. One of General Schofield`s revisions and improvements to the predecessor Model 3 Revolvers included mounting the spring-loaded barrel catch on the frame as opposed to the standard Smith and Wesson Model 3 which has the latch mounted on the barrel. In the previous engineering, the posts of the frame would wear out after heavy usage. Schofield`s improvement called for heat treated, replaceable components at this sensitive "wear" area of the catch and latch. Serial number range also will give an indication of whether it is First or Second Model, with the serial numbers changing from the First Model to the Second Model at a little over 3,000.
New Model Number 3
In 1877, S&W discontinued production of its other Model 3`s such as the American, Russian, and Schofield—in favor a new improved design called the New Model Number Three. Standard chambering was .44 Russian, although other calibers were offered on special order or in related models such as the .44-40 Frontier Model, the .32-44 & .38-44 Target Models, and the very rare .38-40 Winchester Model.
Australian Model. In 1880 the South Australia Police, who were then interested in re-arming with up to date weapons, noted a display of New Model Number Three revolvers at the Australian Exposition in Melbourne. An order was placed through S&W`s New York agent for 250 nickel revolvers in .44 Russian with a seven-inch barrel length. The order, which included extension shoulder stocks, ammunition, and reloading kits, arrived at Adelaide in March 1882. The revolvers and stocks were thereupon marked with a government broad arrow punch mark, and were called revolver-carbines. They were issued to mounted police, known as troopers, who at that period also policed the Northern Territory. Both the South Australia and Western Australia police made further small purchases during 1886-88, none of which was marked with the broad arrow. For some thirty years the revolver-carbine was the front line weapon of the mounted police of S.A., W.A., and N.T. Nearly all serial numbers are known, and are listed in the book Service Arms of the South Australian Police. The S.A. revolvers were sold as surplus in 1953 to the Western Arms Corporation of Los Angeles.
An engraved, gold-plated New Model Number 3 with pearl grips was presented to sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the 1890s by her husband Frank Butler. The revolver was one of three embellished guns that were cased for Oakley as a presentation group.
Modern reproductions of the Smith & Wesson model 3 Revolver are made by a number of companies, including (most notably) Smith & Wesson themselves, as well as the Italian arms-makers Uberti and Armi San Marco.
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson manufactures a modern reproduction of the original model 3 Revolvers. Re-introduced at the 2000 SHOT Show, and touted as being a "true" reproduction, there are significant differences between the modern version and the original. Side-by-side comparison of an original with the pre-production gun showed that the new version is slightly beefier than the original around the barrel and topstrap, though not as much as on the Navy Arms guns. Changes in the internal lock mechanism were also made. The "reproduction" S&W Model 3 firing pin is frame-mounted instead of being an integral part of the hammer, a modern safety feature - with a transfer bar as a practical safety catch in a revolver - preventing accidental discharge if dropped. This is not a transfer bar on the firing pin but a blocking bar on the hammer if it slipped off the thumb when cocking the pistol. A heavier cylinder was fitted into the beefier frame. Unlike the Uberti reproductions that have a longer than original cylinder and frame the S&W was made to only accommodate the shorter original Schofield rounds.
Uberti/Armi San Marco
The Uberti version, imported by Navy Arms, had external dimensions generally similar to the original 2nd Model Schofield, but the barrel and topstrap are considerably thicker, for additional strength. As with the Armi San Marco model, the Navy Arms/Uberti model 3 revolver has a lengthened cylinder to accommodate .45 Colt and .44-40 cartridges. Although there were some problems with the locking latch angles in early guns, these were generally corrected or the guns replaced. European reproduction Model 3 revolvers have changes made to their lockwork to meet import regulations. A Uberti produced reproduction was also marketed as the Beretta Laramie.
Use by Wyatt Earp
The Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolver was famously used by notorious law enforcer Wyatt Earp during the OK Corral Gunfight with the Clanton Gang.
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American Indian Wars
Russo-Turkish War (1877–78)
Smith & Wesson
.44 Russian, .44 S&W American. .38 S&W
1.3 kilograms (2.9 lb)
305 millimetres (12.0 in)
165 millimetres (6.5 in)
In service dates:
Fixed front post and rear notch