When it comes to concealed carry, the famed snub nose revolver is one of the O.G.s of carry firearms.
To this day, the snub nose continues to be a common choice for shooters looking for a simple, reliable, and powerful weapon. Where did the famed snub nose come from? Tough to say, but the Fitz Special is arguably one of the first modern concealed carry revolvers.
John Henry Fitzgerald, aka Fitz, was a Colt employee from 1819 to 1944. He was a prizefighter as a young man and was reportedly a large man. Fitz became an exceptional shot and participated in numerous competitions where he often came out on top. He loved Colt revolvers and became well known for honing the actions of Colt revolvers. In 1918 he became a salesman for Colt.
In the mid-1920s, he began modifying Colt revolvers. Specifically, he took Colt Police Positive revolvers and began extensively modifying them. These revolvers became known as Fitz Specials and became somewhat popular. The Fitz revolvers would go on to inspire revolvers and concealed carry as a whole.
What was Mr. Fitzgerald doing to turn a Colt New Service into a Fitz Special? Well, first and foremost, he trimmed that barrel back. Fitz Special guns featured a barrel length of two inches or less. At the time, the shortest barrel Colt available was the 4-inch New Service model, so this trimmed the size of the revolver considerably.
By trimming the barrel, Fitz also removed the front sight. Thus, he needed to add a front sight to the gun. The ejection rod also needed to be trimmed, and the hammer was also de-spurred and trimmed for a smooth draw from concealment. Fitz also reshaped the grip and trimmed the butt of the gun to reduce the size and to improve your draw for deep concealment as well.
The biggest indicator of a Fitz Special is the fact the front portion of the trigger guard is trimmed and removed. The idea was to get the shooter’s finger on the trigger quickly and efficiently to give them a faster first shot.
John Henry Fitzgerald produced what is largely considered to be the snub-nosed revolver. These guns gained the immediate attention of renowned firearms experts, gunfighters, and lawmen of the time.
John reportedly carried two Fitz Specials in the pockets of his pants, but he didn’t just produce these firearms for himself. The concept caught on, and Fit Specials became the go-to gunfighter’s concealed weapon. The Fitz Special became replicated by many gunsmiths of the era, but they were also called Fitz Specials.
Charles Askins, a firearm expert, soldier, and lawman, was a major fan of the Fitz Special. He reportedly carried a Colt New Service, converted to a Fitz in .45 Colt. Famous international lawman, firearms instructor, and all-around badass, Rex Applegate carried a .45 ACP Fitz Special that was made specifically for him. It featured an engraving that said, “To Rex from Fitz.”
Actor William Powell and famed pilot Charles Lindbergh both owned these revolvers. They were attractive to outlaws as well, and Clyde Barrow reportedly carried one.
There seems to be a dispute on how many Fitz made, with numbers being between 40 and 200, plus the numerous adaptions done by gunsmiths around the country. It’s tough to say, but without a doubt, these guns are extremely collectible.
While guns given the Fitz treatment were popular, Colt was smart enough to recognize the potential. Colt took the New Service revolver and made the Colt Detective Special. The Colt Detective Special became a mass-produced factory snub nose revolver.
The Colt Detective Special wasn’t the full Fitz gun. Colt kept the trigger guard intact, left the hammer spur, and used a slightly different front sight. The Colt Detective Special became an instant hit and remained so throughout its production life.
The success of the Colt Detective Special brought us the Chief’s Special, and now guns like the S&W M&P Bodyguard, the Ruger LCR, and every other snub nose on the market. Crazy to think that an innovative Colt salesman would create an entirely new genre of weapons. The Fitz Special revolvers remain an interesting bookmark in the world of concealed carry firearms.
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army.
He serves as an NRA-certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms-based hobbies.
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