Key point: After one hundred years, the 1911 is still going strong.
One of the oldest gun companies in America produces its own take on one of the most exemplary handgun designs in U.S. history.
Smith & Wesson’s series of handguns based on the 1911 platform stays true to the gun’s roots while adding in a number of features desirable to modern firearms enthusiasts. The company produces a full line of 1911s, from traditional to contemporary, catering to collectors and duty carriers, in a full range of sizes.
The 1911 pistol was invented by prolific small arms designer John Moses Browning in the early twentieth century. Browning paired the pistol with his new .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge, a large, heavy subsonic cartridge that delivered upwards of 400 foot-pounds of energy on target. The pairing of a semi-automatic pistol capable of holding eight rounds with the .45 ACP manstopper round was in response to reports that U.S.-issue revolvers in .38 Long Colt often failed to stop Filipino insurgents in close quarters combat.
Although the 1911 missed the Philippine Insurrection, it was well positioned to enter World War I on the side of the U.S. military. The American Expeditionary Force issued the 1911 in large numbers where they fought in the trenches of World War I. Minor changes in the design resulted in the 1911A1 designation during the 1920s. More than a million pistols were produced for U.S. and allied forces during World War II, enough that the armed services kept the 1911 in frontline service well into the 1980s.
The 1911 dominated the U.S. commercial firearms industry for decades, and coupled with the draft and the use of the gun by the military for more than sixty years resulted in a gun that cast a wide cultural shadow. Few firearms have their own fanbase of die-hard enthusiasts as the 1911 does, and today most firearm manufacturers cater to this group with their own take on what many consider John Browning’s masterpiece.
Smith & Wesson manufactures a wide variety of 1911s, starting with the SW1911 E-Series, then moving up to their Performance Series, and finally the Performance Pro series. The company also produces equivalents to the traditional full-sized Government pistol, compact Commander pistol, and subcompact Officer series.
The company’s base 1911, the 1911 E-Series, is built along the lines of a typical government model. The pistol has a 5-inch barrel, weighs 39.6 ounces, and carries eight rounds in the magazine plus an additional round in the chamber. It features laminate wooden grips, white dot Novak-styles sights for low-light shooting, and a beavertail grip safety. The 1911 E-Series is finished in brushed stainless steel and features aggressive fish scale-like checkering on the slide.
The company’s 1911 Performance Center line is the next model up and features a considerable amount of work typically considered custom in the world of 1911 handguns. The Performance Center pistol includes a ported slide, an action job performed by Smith & Wesson gunsmiths, throated barrel, a crowned muzzle, polished feed ramps, and an ambidextrous manual safety. The gun also features adjustable sights, a step up from those on the base E-Series 1911. Performance Center enhancements are rounded off by a finer, thirty line per inch checkering pattern on the pistol’s blue G10 laminate grips.
Rounding out Smith & Wesson’s 1911 series is the Performance Pro line. These 1911s sport features that are often added by gun owners as a premium, borderline luxury features. The Pro line includes all the features of the Performance series with the addition of an oversized external extractor, a full-length guide rod, extended magazine well, and a stoned hammer and sear for improved trigger operation. The Pro line is also finished in matte stainless steel and features authentic wooden grips instead of laminate.
The SW1911 line is also differentiated by size. 1911 handguns are typically divided into 5-inch barrel “Government” full-size handguns, 4.25-inch barrel “Commander” compact-sized handguns, and 3-inch barrel “Officer” subcompact size handguns. This allows the 1911 enthusiast to pick the size handgun that fits his or her needs, whether it be a government-sized range pistol, commander for concealed carry, or officer for discreet concealed carry. Smith & Wesson’s handgun line offers 1911s in all three sizes, although their version of the Officer pistol is only available in the performance series.
More than a hundred years after introduction, the 1911 series pistol is still going strong. Smith & Wesson’s homage to the 1911 series mixes tradition and innovation, adding new features while still recognizable as one of John Moses Browning’s timeless inventions. The pistol’s unmatched cachet, earned over time, will ensure it will remain part of Smith & Wessons’ lineup for decades to come.
Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he co-founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This first appeared in November 2019.
Image: Saddle Rock Armory.