The less-than auspicious .41 magnum had an unusual beginning and not many people know the whole story. In 1963, Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan, with some help from Skeeter Skelton, petitioned Smith & Wesson, Remington, and Norma to produce a pistol and ammunition in .41 caliber which would fall between the existing .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum cartridges in ballistic performance.
But why? Why did these three leading handgun ballistics and law enforcement "Experts" see the need for a "middle magnum" for law enforcement? To understand why, it's necessary to go back in time to 1964. In 1964, the standard police sidearm was either a 38 special loaded with 158 grain roundnose lead bullets or a 357 magnum Colt Trooper or S&W highway patrolman, or after 1955, a model 19, all loaded with full power 357 magnum lead, SWC bullets.
But even armed with 357 magnums, some law enforcement personnel complained about the cartridge's effectiveness with lead bullets, and prior to 1965, when Super-vel started making hollowpoint ammunition there was no hollowpoint ammunition and even after 1965, police departments were reluctant to issue hollowpoint ammo because those in the national news media considered hollowpoint ammo "Inhumane" and liked to point out that "Dum Dum Bullets" were banned by the Geneva convention, which was not technically true because it was actually the Hague Convention of 1899 and not the Geneva convention that prohibited the use of expanding projectiles in warfare.
So what Keith and Jordan saw as the solution was a heavier bullet of a larger diameter than 357, and instead of an expanding bullet, they wanted something firing a bullet that was "pre-expanded" from 35 to 40 caliber. Keith's original vision called for dual power levels in the .41, a heavy "hunting" load pushing a 210-grain JHP at a muzzle velocity of 1300–1400 feet per second, and a milder police loading which was to send a 200-grain semiwadcutter downrange at around 900 fps/360 fpe, and the original name for this cartridge was to be the "41 Police" and it was to be chambered in a gun that was smaller and lighter than either the 357 Highway patrolman or an N-frame 44 special or 44 magnum.
And that's where the project hit a snag. The marketing people at Smith & Wesson said that no new handgun cartridge in 1964 would sell unless it had the "Magnum" name attached to it, and Remington agreed and upped the police load ballistics from a lead SWC developing 900 fps/360 fpe to 1135 fps 600 fpe, and boosted the "Hunting" load to a 210 softpoint developing 1600 fps/1193 fpe. And then Smith and Wesson said that the proposed .41 cartridge with a six-shot cylinder was too big for the K-frame and decided to produce it on the N-frame which would become the 41 M&P model 58 with a 4 inch heavy, but unshrouded, barrel with fixed sights, along with another 41 magnum, the model 57 with adjustable sights and available with 4, 6, and 8 3/8ths inch barrel lengths.
Here is a picture of an ad for the final product:
Back in 1965, when I was in high school, (I graduated in 1966) a friend of mine bought a new Smith and Wesson model 58 and I shot it a few times with the 41 police load, a 210 grain lead SWC bullet at 1135 fps (from a 6" barrel) and it was a sweet shooter and I really liked it and I've wanted one ever since. And a few years ago I found one in beautiful condition, so first thing, I got some ammo for it, a box of Winchester 240 grain platinum tips and another box of Winchester 175 grain silvertips and took it out and shot it. I've owned a couple of 44 magnums and can handle the recoil of any 44 magnum load, but firing this thing with the skinny "Service" grips was un-sane.
So I went home and dug out a set of Hogue grips and a set of N frame "target" grips and of course the gun was easier to shoot with those grips. Then a week later. I came across some old boxes of Remington 41 mag at a gun shop which they said was from the mid-sixties, the original "Hunting" load! So I put on the Hogues and tried those out, and that was some hot ammo. Eventually I got a Tyler T-grip adaptor for it and now it isn't bad with the 175 grain silvertips and I have reloaded some ammo that is the equivalent of the original "Police loads". I could never stand to have rubber grips on this gun, but the Tyler grip adaptor is "Correct" for the period when this gun was in use and help with the recoil.
The lack of controllability with magnum loads and skinny grips brings up the final point of why the 41 magnum was a failure as a police duty gun. From my own experience from firing the gun back in the day with the police load, and then firing it recently with the original Magnum load, I know that anyone who fired the magnum load in this gun would not do it again. The other thing that led to the failure of this gun was the fact that in just a couple of years, ammunition technology would do away with the need for a big bore heavy handgun as the model 19 became state of the art, soon to be replaced by the wondernines.
Here is a picture of a model 58 with the T-grip adaptor, Note the fixed sights, unshrouded heavy barrel and skinny service grips.
Glock fans of the G20 will be interested to know how the 10mm auto compares to the 41 magnum. With some loads it compares very well. The website, Ballistics 101, shows Winchester factory velocity figures as giving 1250 fps for my preferred 175 grain Silvertip load. But another website, "Ballistics by the inch" shows only 1072 fps out of a 4 inch barrel. for the 10mm, Winchester's 10mm 175 grain silvertip does 1149 fps out of a 4 inch barrel and a Glock barrel is 4.60 inches, or a little over 4 1/2 inches.
But it's with heavier bullets that the 41 magnum proves itself to be a true magnum. DoubleTap has a 250 grain load that does 1370 fps and Buffalo bore has a 265 grain load that does 1350 and there is no way the 10mm could come close to those figures and even with the lighter bullets, the 41 mag can do better than the Winchester silvertip load but at a cost of greater recoil even in a heavier gun. The 10mm Auto's ballistics are actually closer to the original ".41 police" ballistics than they are to the 41 magnum but for defensive use at home or on the streets rather than big-game hunting use, the two are close.
Here is a comparison of the 357, 41, and 44 magnums and the 41 mag an 10mm Auto: