Origins Of The New S&W Centennial Revolver

Col. Rex Applegate’s Shoot-Out Leads To A Revolver’s Redesign

“In 1947, after retiring from the regular army and moving to Mexico City, I formed a Mexican sales company for representation of American firearms and allied lines. During this period I carried a Fourth Model .38 S&W Hammerless with a 2” barrel, either in my pocket, or when in southern Mexico, in the hotter tropical climate, in a Myers special belt-attached, upside-down holster that was a very practical system, particularly when wearing an open bottom shirt as was customarily worn.

Just prior to one of my regular trips to the states around 1950, I had been in southern Mexico, near the Guatemalan border, in the area of Salina Cruz in the company of a Mexican Army officer. On this particular evening the officer and I encountered a very drunk, machete-wielding Indian who seemed bent upon decapitating us both. The officer carried his .45 Automatic in a US Army holster. While he was frantically trying to get it into action, I was successful in drawing my Safety Hammerless from the Myers holster, from under my sport shirt and dropped the machete wielding Indian after putting five slugs into his torso. He finally fell to the ground about five feet from me, just as I was getting ready to throw the empty gun at him. Due to the Mexican army connection, there were no repercussions.

I mentioned this incident to W.H.B. Smith when I next met him in New York, prior to our trip to the S&W plant, and complained about the lack of stopping power. We both began wondering why it was not possible, and advisable, for S&W to consider the production of a model similar to the Safety Hammerless, using the Chief Special frame in the more potent .38 Special caliber. We discussed this at some length with Carl Hellstrom [then president of Smith and Wesson].

On my next trip to the plant in the fall of 1951, Carl Helstrom presented to me a prototype model of one of the first Centennials. This is one of my most prized firearms and one which I will always treasure. I cannot help but think that, especially due to the urging of W.H.B. Smith and perhaps myself, that we were at least partially responsible for convincing Hellstrom to produce the Centennial Model.”
– Col. Rex Applegate, June 1990

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