Before there was a .38 Smith & Wesson Special Model 1899 Hand Ejector, (known today as .38 Military & Police First Model), there was the pocket-sized .32 S&W Model I, introduced in the waning days of the Old West. The new .32 caliber S&W First Model, or .32 Ejector Model of 1896, was the first S&W revolver to employ a swing-out cylinder and ejector rod for the simultaneous extraction of spent shell cases. The small, six-shot revolvers were chambered for the new .32 S&W Long cartridge and offered with 3¼-inch, 4¼-inch, and 6-inch barrels from 1896 through 1903.
S&W had pioneered the topbreak revolver in 1870 with the No. 3 American as the fastest means to eject spent cases and reload, but the improvements necessary to build a more modern revolver with a solid frame demanded another way to accomplish the loading and extracting of cartridges. S&W’s first swing out cylinder, developed in 1894, used a spring-loaded center pin that traveled inside the extractor rod to lock the cylinder in place against a recess in the center of the recoil shield; there was no thumb release on the side of the frame. The gun was opened by simply pulling the center pin forward and pressing the cylinder towards the left side of the frame.
The most unusual features of the First Model revolvers, however, were the location of the cylinder stop, which was mounted in the topstrap, rather than the bottom of the frame like most revolvers, and a small notched rear sight pinned to the topstrap forward of the cylinder’s centerline. When the gun was fired double-action, or the hammer manually cocked, the topstrap (and thus the rear sight) were raised slightly by a wedge on the hammer nose that lifted the locking bolt from the cylinder stop, allowing the next chamber to rotate into battery. This could make an aimed shot a trifle complicated at times but these small caliber revolvers were mainly intended for close up work.
Another distinctive feature was that the Smith & Wesson name, Springfield Mass address, U.S.A. Patent-ed, and the revolver’s “July 1. 84.”, “April 9. 89.”, “March 27. 94.”, “May 29. 94.”, “May 21. 95.”, and “July 16. 95”. patent dates were roll stamped around the cylinder between the flutes, instead of on the barrel and frame. The S&W Logo was also stamped into the right side of the frame.