S&W Model 5904, by Pat Cascio

Many of our readers are requesting more articles on all-metal handguns, and its getting a bit harder to do these, as most semi-auto handguns today usually have a polymer frame. So, I had to dig down and find a nice representation of an all-metal gun – this doesn’t mean a gun with a steel frame, but one manufactured out of metal – in this case – the frame is manufactured out of Aluminum alloy – the S&W Model 5904.

I was introduced to the S&W Model 59 while working as the assistant security manager of a large department store, in a place called Matteson, Illinois. I was carrying some kind of .357 Magnum snubby revolver most of the time. I stopped one night, before going home, to visit a police officer out side the store, and there on his dash was a new Model 59, a 14-shot 9mm semi-auto handgun. I liked it – a lot, and eventually picked-up one for my own use. At some point, this police officer, Mike C. became chief of police of that growing little town.  And as I recall, one of the first “saves” wearing a Second Chance soft body armor, while on patrol.

S and W Model 5904 MagazinesOver the years, the Model 59 progressed, with newer and better models like the various 59-2, 59-3 and other models, until S&W introduced an all-new version of this gun, called the 5904 – it was a much better handgun than the original versions. It now came with a 15-shot magazine and fed more reliably, too – the original 14-round magazines had weak springs, and the guns often failed to get that next round in the magazine up there fast enough for the slide to pick it up. It also came with either fixed sights or adjustable sights. The fixed sights were much better than those on the original, which were often loose in the slide. The adjustable-sight version – the sights were really great, but much too large, in my humble opinion. The grip panels – it was now a single wrap-arond grip that simply slid into place, instead of having two grip panels – really a great improvement. The trigger pull was much better than the previous models of the Model 59, as well. We also had an ambidextrous decocking lever on the slide, too.

The Specifications

Let’s take a close look at the Model 5904, and see what else it offers. First of all, it was only made from 1989 to 1998 – so it had a very short production life, all things considered. It has a 4-inch barrel, and weighs-in at 26.5 ounces – pretty light for those days, when many handguns were made completely out of steel – bringing the weight up, up, up there.

S and W Model 5904The 5904 also had the single-action/double-action trigger pull. When you chambered a round, you would then decock the hammer, after that you could remove the magazine and insert another round into it. You then had the option of either keeping the decocking lever in the down position, which meant it was on-safe, or you could push the decocking lever back up – and you could fire the gun by simply pulling the trigger, this lead to a lot of confusion for many – and they needed to decide how they wanted to carry the 5904, either with the safety on, or off. In any event, you had a long double-action trigger pull for the first shot, unless you manually cocked the hammer. A lot of people never could get the hang on transition from that first shot being fires double-action, to the remaining shots being fired single-action. Needless to say, the single-action trigger pull was much shorter and smoother, resulting in more hits on the target. Later on, S&W developed some double-action only handguns – they had a long, but very smooth trigger pull for each shot – I liked them a lot.

Now a Wider Choice of Ammo

One thing that is often mentioned is that, there weren’t many companies making JHP 9mm back there, and more often than not, it wouldn’t feed reliably into any handguns – even the S&W marked 9mm JHP or JSP 9mm boxed ammo wouldn’t reliably feed in their guns, so most of us carried FMJ ammo if we wanted the gun to go “bang” every time we pulled the trigger, instead of trying to get round to chamber  – not good. Eventually the feed ramps on these guns were better finished, and better JHP ammo came along, that would feed in those guns.

I also carried an S&W Model 39-2 quite often – it was an 8+1 round gun, and it worked without hesitation – all the time. It was with that handgun, that I had to pull it from the holster and put in a man’s face, who threatened to “walk all over me….” – I was deeply into the martial arts back then, but this man was big enough to do to me, what he threatened to do – and I didn’t have any back-up at that time, and when I put the gun in his face, I simply told him “no sir, you are not going to walk all over me…” and he meekly said “Okay” and came back to the security office without any further problems – I had a lot of confidence in the S&W 39-2 model.

S and W Model 5904 I picked-up my Model 5904 from the local gun/pawn shop I haunt in Lebanon, Oregon for a song, not too long ago – don’t even want to say what I paid for it, but it was well under the going price for $525 for a used version. Unfortunately, the gun only came with one magazine, and if you price factory mags – if you can find them, they are pretty spendy. I found out that Mec-Gar magazines is making mags for the 5904, and they can be had in 10-rounds, 15-rounds, 17-rounds and 20-round versions. I elected to go with the 17-round version – and it has fed and functioned without any problems. Mec-Gar produces magazines for about 50 gun companies, so you know they make the best of the best when it comes to magazines.

Whoever owned this used 5904 before me, probably hadn’t fired it in a lot of years, it was difficult to get apart for a cleaning and lube, one of the levers in the frame was frozen in the up position. I resulted in using a rubber mallet on the slide/frame and with a few whacks the slide was off. After a good inspection and cleaning – and plenty of lube, the gun was ready for the range.

My Range Tests

My accuracy testing was done at 25-yards, and if I did my part, I could get groups between 3.5-inches and 4-inches without too many problems. The nice folks at Black Hills Ammunition seint me a good assortment of 9mm ammo, to test in this gun. I had their 115-gr  FMJ, 124-gr JHP, 124-grain JHP and the same in a +P version, and their HoneyBadger 100-gr al-copper fluted bullet, and the same in 127-gr sub-sonic load.

The 124-gr JHP +P wasn’t reliable in the 5904, nor did I expect it to – these older 9mm handguns aren’t set-up to handle those hotter rounds. I did have some of the Black Hills 124-JHP EXP ammo – this is between a standard velocity and under a +P velocity load. Still, for steady shooting, I would stick with non +P ammo.

This Model 5904 brought back a lot of fond memories for me, as I was testing it. In all, I put 300-rounds down range, and the gun remained reliable, so long as I avoided the 124-gr JHP +P load. If you shop around, you can find a lot of 5904 models on the Internet as well as in many gun shops – as police trade-ins. While this gun isn’t a “wonder nine” it is still a very capable self-defense handgun, or for survival purposes. Check one out, I think you might like this old fashioned 9mm pistol.




13 Comments

  1. I picked up an Israeli surplus model 59 a couple of years ago and can echo Pat’s comments. It is a solid, reliable gun. I have used it as a fun run entry in a couple of local matched and it went bang every time and consistently hit the target when I did my part.

  2. Pat, I hope you do not mind a short story time. You and I are old enough to remember and young enough to tell the tale. I went through the police academy in 1974. On the range all carried revolvers but one had a S&Wmod 39. The original was designed in the 1950s in the day when every gun shop had a box of Dad’s bring back Lugers, P-38s and Army 45s. The US was looking for a new automatic in 9m/m. The 39 was born. Bring a first generation it had a few flaws. It was first adopted byThe Illinois State Police for general issue in about 1969. When originally designed, all the ammo that existed was hard ball, full metal jackets. When hollow points came into use they would not feed properly. The mod 59 was designed around the browning high power magazine. For a US Navy contract. But that is another story. These were the first generation.
    Then came along the second generation, product improved model. They still had a few bugs. These guns were all made with fitted parts. No computers in those days. The early second generation had an ambidextrous safety, held on with a screw. It would come loose and become lost. Also the slide stop or release, what ever you prefer, was powered by a round with an angle cut. The round was staked in place. It could come loose and cause malfunctions.
    Then came along your model. You might call it a transitional second generation. The slide stop was changed to a spring steel type and the safety was held on by a dovetail, detent, and spring. This was a good pistol until the plastic generation came along in the 1980s. Who could possibly want a plastic gun? The rest is history.
    The Smith&Wesson mod M&P Shield is as good as any and better than some. It just took a while to get here. Your gun is Grand Pa but I loved old Grand Pa. He cannot run with the big dogs, but can get off the porch and bark from time to time.
    Thanks Pat for remembering.

    1. Hi There,

      I cannot reveal my father’s name for OPSEC reasons but he was a Police Officer in Illinois for over 35 years and retired as Deputy Chief in the city he grew up in (Western Suburb of Chicago) I have many news clippings from articles praising him as he won many awards for all of the shooting competitions he was a part of throughout the state. Just my family’s little part of a story.

      Have a Rockin great day!

  3. I bought my Model 59 in the late 70s, about the time the Army was spinning up the selection process for the 9mm handgun. I have kept that gun and carry it regularly. One of my favorite features is the M59 ability to put a round in the chamber, then decock it with the thumb safety. One push of the thumb as you draw the weapon and it becomes ready to fire.

    I’m half heartedly looking to supplement the M59 with one in .45 cal, either a 645 or 745. For some reason I’m not comfortable carrying a M1911 in condition one.

  4. I bought a brand new S&W Model 411 from a local gun show many years ago (20+).
    It’s a 3rd Generation auto-pistol from the American Pride Series. The gun is in .40 S&W and came with 2 magazines that hold 11 rounds, giving it an 11+1 capacity. Shortly after I purchased it the Brady bill was passed and S&W came out with the model 410 (10 round mags) to comply with the new law. The 411 looks very similar to your model 5904 and was my EDC weapon for a long time. In all my years of ownership it never failed to go bang when it was supposed to, eating any and all ammo I ran through it whether they were reloads or new factory ammo. A very nice firearm IMHO, especially for the price $425 + Tax if memory serves me well.

  5. The first gun I ever bought on my own was a beautiful Model 39-2, all nickel plated. Like yours, it digested all ammo without fail. I bought it from a detective at the PD in Oregon where I was an Exploder Scout and Reserve. I loved that little gun, and when I got my Concealed permit at 18 (one of the last to do so before they changed the age to 21) that Model 39 went everywhere with me. Tucked in nice and tight on long motorcycle rides. Sadly, it was stolen from my apartment in California when I was a Marine deployed to the 1st Gulf War. The MPs did contact me later when there was an NCIC hit for that serial number from a shooting in Chicago- but the Chicago PD refused to return the gun to me… funny how that happened. Many fond memories of that all-metal beauty.

  6. My first 9mm was a 439. Aluminum framed with an eight round magazine. I bought in about 1984 and traded it in on a Beretta 92F which I still have today. It was a very reliable gun. It fed all my hand loads including hollow points. The only issue I had with it was that the frame showed some galling at the rear of the frame just below where the safety was. While I had it only a few years I shot a lot of competitions with it and put a lot of rounds down range. I liked it enough to buy a 645 in 1987, I might be wrong on the year. It was a while back. I still have the 645 a great gun. If I remember correctly the model 39 and 439 had a barrel bushing like a 1911 and the 645 dispensed with that system. Thanks for the great article. TTFN

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  7. I hated the 59 and 04 as well as other models. I’m one who went to the plastic and never looked back because they work, aren’t too heavy and have decent triggers. I’m still using my gen 1 plastic.
    That being said I am glad to see the history and still love their revolvers.

  8. Accepted into the LASO Reserve academy for the city of Glendora Ca In late ’82 I believe, last class to start at BC in east LA. I was issued a 59 and it was it was a mess. I purchased a 59 from a LASO Sgt. and it was a dream. Glendora was continuously having us take them to a smith in Monrovia for updates. In 1984 I won the dept. trophy for 287 out of 300 doing monthly qualifying. The gun was a winner and I still have it. Great piece.

  9. I like the 39 models because their grip/frame angle almost replicate JMB’s(PBUH) 1911 grip angle. That said my EDC is a modified 3914 which I converted back from a NYPD DAO to a SA/DA with an un-bobed hammer.

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