Released in 1878, the .32 Smith & Wesson 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 – a small handgun for the vest pocket that was especially popular in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. The .32 S&W was first loaded with black powder, and then later converted to smokeless.
While it's not a powerful round by any measure, the .32 S&W was used to assassinate President William McKinley in 1901. McKinley was shot twice by Leon Czolgouz in the abdomen. 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, later surpassed by the .32 ACP. However, it is not believed to be a valid personal protection option anymore. 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 & Wesson firearms are more difficult to find for purchase today, as production stopped for them years ago. The ammo – which is still possible to buy from some of the major manufacturers including Remington – can be fired in revolvers 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.