The .32 Smith and Wesson, released in 1878, is a small pistol cartridge intended for use as personal protection at close range. The S&W Model 1 ½ break top revolver was the first platform for the cartridge. The S&W Model 1 ½, a small handgun for the vest pocket, it was especially popular in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The .32 S&W was loaded with black powder at first, and then converted to smokeless powder.
The .32 S&W is not a powerful round by any measure, yet it was used in 1901 to assassinate President William McKinley. McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgouz in the abdomen twice. A shirt button deflected one shot, and the other penetrated the President's stomach. Doctors were not able to remove the bullet, and gangrene set in. President McKinley died nine days after being shot from infection caused by the bullet wound.
The .32 S&W was considered the smallest cartridge acceptable for personal protection in its time. It was surpassed in time by the .32 ACP. The .32 S&W is not believed to be a valid personal protection option any more. 85 or 98 grain LRN bullets are the most projectiles for the .32 S&W, and both are loaded to reach a muzzle velocity of 705 feet per second. This results in 93 and 115 foot pounds of muzzle energy respectively.
.32 Smith and Wesson firearms are more difficult to find for purchase today, as production stopped for them years ago. It is still possible to buy .32 S&W ammunition from some of the major manufacturers including Remington. The ammo can be fired in revolvers which are chambered for the .32 H&R Magnum and for the .327 Federal Magnum. The .32 S&W is not exactly poised for a comeback, but will likely continue to be manufactured as the old S&W 1 ½ and Iver Johnson revolvers chambered for this cartridge will still be shooting for years to come.