History Of The .45 ACP Cartridge

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 7 months ago


The Army Ordnance folks around the beginning of the 20th Century had seen the failures of round-nosed, full-metal jacketed bullets in the British .303 rifles, and our own .30 U.S. Government (aka “.30-40 Krag”) in stopping a determined armed assailant.

They reasoned that since their .38 Long Colt Model 1892 revolvers had shown similarly poor results, and the re-issuance of the .45 SAA (Single Action Arm) into combat had added to the eventual defeat of the Philippine Moros, our military review board sought to adopt another large bore handgun. The British too paralleled this thought process, and as early as the mid-1880s they had already started issuing some of the first .455 Webley revolvers as a result.

By the middle of the first decade of the 20th Century, Colt was developing, along with the genius designer of most of their handguns, John Browning, a .45 cal. semi-automatic pistol. While the original development utilized a 200gr bullet at approximately 900 feet per second in 1906, the Ordnance Department subsequently desired a cartridge that approximated the old .45 Colt revolver cartridge in power, while being shorter in length than the substitute standard .45 S&W Schofield round.

Thus, the 230gr RN FMJ bullet at 850 fps nominal speed was created, and it found a home in the concurrently developed Colt Model 1911 pistol, the longest serving pistol of any military force to the best of my knowledge, some 75 years of official issue.

In the civilian world however, it has remained as popular as ever. Due to the existence of new generation jacketed hollow point bullets, it still retains its terminal ballistic advantages of expansion and consistent penetration compared to smaller bore diameter offerings. A recent detailed study indeed illustrated that the Federal HST 230gr standard pressure rounds offer 16” of penetration and consistent 0.85” of controlled expansion with no bullet fragmentation in an unofficial “FBI heavy clothing test” into simulated ballistic gelatin.

One other thing that is not mentioned much is that its stopping power is achieved without superior “sectional density,” high pressure, or high velocity. It operates at a very low 21,000 copper units of pressure, it has no supersonic crack, and is, therefore, nearly ideal for use with a suppressor. The recoil, while “there,” is more a push than a quick snap, while controlled-pairs shooting aimed rapid-fire are pretty easy to do out to ten yards and can usually be within an inch of each other. I’ve done it, and I’m just not that great a shot.

Moreover, the . 45 ACP cartridge has long borne the brunt of technical development as a precision target shooting round as well as being a supremely controllable defense round. In both the original 230gr RN,FMJ format for “hardball matches,” as well as reduced weight 185gr and 200g target matches, it remains one of the most accurate service pistol rounds extant.

And of course, with the hotter loads you can get from Buffalo Bore and Double Tap, you can send a 230 grain ball at around 1050 FPS, or a 450 SMC at 1120 FPS, and be okay for defense against large predators.

I like the push instead of the snap.  I love shooting the .45 ACP more than any other cartridge, pistol or rifle.

To me it’s not just a competition or self defense round.  If somebody said, “Hey we’re headed to the range, grab a gun,” the first thing I’d reach for is a 1911.


  1. On November 9, 2020 at 12:44 am, blake said:

    Interesting side note, and, I’m going from memory, which is very suspect, but, the 1911 had a competitor from Savage? I think it was, during the original trials.

    Savage lost when JMB took his masterpiece apart with no tool other than the rim of a fired cartridge while the Savage technician took out a toolkit to strip their pistol.

    Again, going from memory and someone more knowledgeable may tell me I’m completely wrong.

  2. On November 9, 2020 at 2:36 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel

    Re: “And of course, with the hotter loads you can get from Buffalo Bore and Double Tap, you can send a 230 grain ball at around 1050 FPS, or a 450 SMC at 1120 FPS, and be okay for defense against large predators.”

    For those of us late to the party, would you mind briefly reviewing (or pointing me in the right direction in your archives) the ins-and-outs of 450 SMC and/or other ways to rev up your stock M1911?

    I checked out Buffalo Bore and Double Tap; what else do you suggest?

    Trying to decide whether to jump on the 10mm bandwagon or go the route you have gone. I really love the M1911 and if there’s any way to get the performance out of it to close the gap, I’d probably go with that.

    My apologies for not taking better notes the first time you covered this….

  3. On November 9, 2020 at 9:43 am, Herschel Smith said:


    You can achieve performance with the 450 SMC (short magnum cartridge) simply by using it instead of .45ACP. The slide will slam back, but it will shoot it. Eventually, it’ll probably break components in the gun.

    The cartridge is essentially a rifle primer instead of pistol primer, leaving more room for powder and thus achieving higher muzzle velocity.

    So what you really want to do is (assuming you have a good 1911 instead of a crappy, poorly made 1911 that you don’t trust), is replace the recoil spring (which is probably a 16# or 18#) with a 22#. You can get them for fairly cheap from Wolff Gun Springs. I did, and replacing it is as simple as field stripping and replacement of the spring. Of course the barrel lug is always a pain on the 1911.

    I let my local gunsmith, Woody at Hyatt Gun Shop, take a look at the pistol before I did this, and he came back with, “Good pistol, well made, SS barrel, should be fine, similar ballistics to the 460 Rowland, just hit what you’re shooting at.”

    I wouldn’t feed any gun a steady diet of 450 SMC. I shoot enough to be competent, a magazine or two, and then I’m done. It’ll wear on the web of your shooting hand anyway. It’s not a fun, plinking round. It’s a big predator round.

    For big predators: no hollow points. Only ball ammo. 1120 FPS, hit the vitals.

    Or if you don’t want to go that route, any handgun that can handle +P cartridges (which should be most, if not all), get Buffalo Bore +P ball, which will send the round 1050 FPS.

  4. On November 9, 2020 at 10:08 am, George 1 said:

    If you have a 1911 that you want to make a dedicated 450 SMC, you can install an extra power mainspring and a flat firing pin stop. The firing pin stop will probably require fitting.
    Mine did. Not too tough a job. Videos are available to show you how. These in addition to your extra power recoil spring.

    These modifications will slow the slide down and make for less wear on the gun. I did this with my old Colt Commander. The gun can now reliably shoot very hot ammo, including the SMC, although I don’t shoot that stuff very much. It will reliably shoot the Buffalo Bore 255 gr hard cast. That stuff will go a little over 900 FPS. I have shot a few varieties of plus P also with no issues.

    As a bonus, at least with my commander, The gun will still shoot the lowered powered ammo reliably but that may not be the case with most 1911s.

  5. On November 9, 2020 at 1:47 pm, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Herschel and George I – thanks for the info,it is much appreciated!

  6. On November 9, 2020 at 10:00 pm, Danny said:

    @Georgiaboy and @Herschel. I have made this analogy before on this site. Perhaps it’s anecdotal and flawed but I opine it has merit. In my youth (70s and 80s) I played very high level baseball. Professionally recruited (Cardinals and Tigers). Played on a top 20 national college baseball team as a catcher and at 1st base. I caught guys who threw 90+ in HS and 100+ in college. As a catcher, one gets hit with many missed pitches. Where and when I grew up, semi pro fast pitch softball was big. I was recruited heavily to play on every team in town. I tried out for one, the local AT&T semi pro team, yea a thing, was eons ago. Pitchers mound is 20 feet closer and these guys threw 120+ mph. I can go on record to say any projectile thrown at you, that hits you from 40 feet at 120+ mph is not soft, regardless of the marketing.

    I understand the impulse calculation of mass and velocity. Just saying, bigger projectile with similar velocities – ouch.

    My brother has a 3.5 inch.40 cal SA XD, sucks to shoot. Follow up shots in the 10 ring at 10 yards, fughetaboutit. Snappy McSnappy. I will take my 1911s and SA XDs in .45ACP everyday of the week.

  7. On November 10, 2020 at 3:57 am, Georgiaboy61 said:

    @ Danny

    Re: “I understand the impulse calculation of mass and velocity. Just saying, bigger projectile with similar velocities – ouch.”

    Read you loud-and-clear on that. A brief wartime anecdote tells the tale…

    I can’t lay my hands on it at the moment, but I recall reading some WWII history some years back about an 82nd Airborne or 101st Airborne paratrooper (can’t recall which of the divisions he belonged to or which regiment or company) dropped into hedgerow country in France on D-Day. It is very densely overgrown in many places, and he and a German infantryman more-or-less blundered into one another, accidentally meeting one another face-to-face less than ten feet apart.

    The German was first to bring his weapon to bear, getting his MP38/40 submachine gun in 9x19mm (9mm Parabellum) into action with a burst of fire, five rounds of which hit the American but did not bring him down. The American, however, managed to fire just a split-second later, placing a single 230-grain FMJ “hard-ball” round into his target.

    The American was wounded five times, but not so seriously that he could not walk to the battalion aid station under his own power. The German, on the other hand, was killed outright by that single shot.

    The .45 ACP hardball round is justifiably famous as a fight-stopper which puts ’em down good-and-hard. Incidents like this one demonstrate why.

    Most military history aficionados who study the Second World War are familiar with the fabled British Commandos, the forerunners of today’s British SAS and Royal Marine Commandos. Prime Minister Churchill formed them as a elite force of raiders who would “set Europe ablaze.” Everywhere in retreat in 1939 and 1940, only the RAF was on the offensive against Germany and occupied Europe, and then not to any great extent. The commandos were created as another means of taking the fight to the enemy where he least expected it.

    The commandos, because of their elite status and the personal interest of the Prime Minister, were given considerable leeway and latitude in choosing their own weapons, within the constraints imposed upon wartime Britain. Churchill was able to prevail upon U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to allocate some of the then-scarce and precious U.S. production of Thompson submachine guns, for use by his new force. Henceforth, some of those commandos would go into combat armed with the gangster gun, a.k.a. “the Chicago Typewriter,” the Thompson SMG chambered in .45 ACP.

    Though heavy, the Thompson was superbly made, hard-hitting and reliable, and the commandos soon grew quite fond of them. The Thompson proved to be ideal for the kind of daring and audacious operations with which the commandos were tasked. Thompson-equipped commandos were often point men on patrol, and also specialized in room-clearing and other close-quarters operations, for which the weapon proved ideal.

    The Thompson and its hard-hitting cartridge were so popular that they had to be pried out of the hands of the commandos when sufficient British-made STEN (9x19mm) guns became available to arm existing and new troops of these elite soldiers.

  8. On November 11, 2020 at 8:53 pm, Danny said:

    @Georgiaboy. Look at the transition from .38 Special to .45ACP in the Philippines RE historical context and the indigenous warriors wrapping their torsos with leather “bullet proof” garments. .38 SPC went doink and bounced off. .45ACP went bang and ouch, knocked their dicks in the dirt and at least the heros could run them through with a sword when the lay writhing in pain on the ground. Just saying.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Ammunition,Firearms,Guns and was published November 8th, 2020 by Herschel Smith.

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