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All modern firearm ammunition is assembled with the same basic components: a casing plugged with a primer at one end, filled with powder, and capped with a bullet at the other end. Since the 1830s, there have been remarkable improvements in handgun ammo, yet the fundamental design is unchanged.
The .22 Short was the first self-contained pistol ammunition in production. This rimfire cartridge received a positive reception and is still being produced today. With a small charge of black powder and a bullet weighing 29 grains, the .22 Short is only suitable for hunting the smallest game and exterminating small varmints. The small recoil and quiet report have contributed to it being fun to shoot as well as its ongoing demand. After the introduction of the .22 Short, rimfire cartridges of larger and larger size were introduced all the way up to .58 caliber.
In the 1870s, centerfire revolver cartridges became popular – with the 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver becoming the most popular in this era. Referred to by many as "The Gun That Won The West," the Single Action Army was chambered in the iconic .45 Colt, and went on to inspire the development of many other single action revolvers of the time. It was also chambered for the .44-40 ammo cartridge, which was initially designed to be fired in a lever action rifle, but handguns quickly followed due to the cartridge's effectiveness and versatility. A person could now fire the same ammunition from both a rifle and a handgun – a real advantage.
Several cartridges were developed in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century for the latest innovation in handgun design – the semi-auto pistol. The .30 Luger and .30 Borchardt were somewhat successful, but the 1902 introduction of the 9mm Luger changed the face of handguns and rapidly became the dominant centerfire pistol cartridge around the world. Armed forces from many countries jumped to adopt the cartridge. The U.S., however, was intent to blaze their own trail when it came to handgun cartridges. In 1911, the .45 ACP was adopted by U.S. Army officials who determined that bullet weight (as opposed to velocity) would be the factor that influenced their choice for military issue handguns.
The general construction of handgun ammo has not changed much since the early 1900s. Specific cartridges have appeared, however, over the years. The .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum, the .40 Smith & Wesson and the .380 ACP have all influenced the development and improvement of modern ammunition for handguns.
There are so many options in handgun ammunition available today that it might overwhelm the novice shooter – with varieties in bullet shape, bullet weight and bullet design. Case construction varies, and ammunition designed for special purposes is available for sale. Shooters today are lucky to have more cheap handgun ammo options than ever before.