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The Derringer Pistol - America's Smallest Gun


On April 14th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind then U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, and shot him in the back of the head. His deadly weapon of choice was a Derringer pistol. Since that terrible day, the small gun began to be known as the "hitman's special". Yet the Derringer pistol conjures up ideas of the "wild wild west" and the mystique of this little gun continues to this day. First produced by gunsmith Henry Deringer in 1852, the single-shot pistol became so popular that several companies rushed to reproduce it. They dubbed it the "derringer" adding an extra "r" to the famed gunsmith's name. It stuck. The Derringer line of pistols is still being made today by a host of companies but the original design remains basically the same.

Henry Deringer -

Henry Deringer was born to be a gunsmith. He had his start on October 26, 1786 in Easton, Pennsylvania. His father was a colonial gunsmith who was known for making Kentucky rifles. At the young age of fifteen years, Henry Deringer became an apprentice to a firearms maker located in Virginia. He eventually moved back to the Philadelphia area and started his own gunsmith business. He was so good at what he did that he was often contracted out by the U.S. government. He later became obsessed with making the perfect single-shot pistol which could be used as a conceal and carry gun. He was intrigued by the idea of the element of surprise in self defense. He saw the advantage of carrying a palm-sized hidden weapon which could be produced when needed. With this in mind, Deringer produced a small cap lock pocket pistol in 1852. The Deringer pistol became immediately popular. It was accurate at short range and easy to use. It was most commonly bored in .41 caliber and it was less than six inches long.

Uses -

The Derringer pistol most often served as a back-up weapon. It is still used in that capacity by some police departments today. Old west outlaws loved these hideaway guns, the element of surprise working in their favor. The Derringer was also called the "belly gun" because of its use in close proximity in old west fights. It's short barrel made it a convenient weapon when there was little distance between opponents.

It was also know as the gambler's gun. Gamblers, always on the lookout for those who cheated or wished to take their money would often keep a Derringer under their hat or in their belts for quick access. Lady gamblers, in particular, would surely have one hidden somewhere. The Derringer was also often referred to as the "lady's" gun. The fancy ladies of the old west would carry one in their drawstring purses or in their garter belts.

Television and Movies -

The Derringer pistol has been romanticized by both television and the big screen especially in westerns. How can anyone forget Yancy Derringer, the suave old west gambler who kept the small gun hidden under his hat (played by Jock Mahoney 1958-59). On the long-running western television series, Have Gun Will Travel, gun-for-hire Paladin carried a Derringer as a back-up gun. (Played by Richard Boone 1957-63). And in the 1965 to 1970 western series, The Wild, Wild West, secret agent James T. west carried a concealed Derringer up his shirt sleeve. When activated it popped out into his hand. (Played by Robert Conrad).

But it isn't in just the old television westerns that the demur pistol makes an appearance. In more modern TV, the Derringer was used by Grace Park as Sharon in Battlestar Galactica and by a security guard in Stargate SG1. It also showed up in the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Fifteen Years Later Affair.

Seeing a Derringer pistol used by characters in movies is also no surprise. Gene Hackman as John wields the small gun handily in the 1995 movie The Quick and the Dead. It was used by Brion James as Leon Kowalski in Blade Runner (1982), by Tcheky Karyo as Fouchet in Bad Boys (1995), and by Monica Bellucci as Persephone in The Matrix Reloaded (2003). Even the anime genre has featured a Derringer most notably by the character of Nina in Monster (2004-2005).

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platinumOwl4 on November 26, 2012:

Suziecat7, this is another fine article that peaks my interest. I recently purchase a titled Weaponry by Chuck Willis. The weapons of destruction are mind altering. look for an article soon.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on August 22, 2012:

Sorry, Rosemary, couldn't tell you.

rosemary on August 22, 2012:

does any one know how much these guns cost. my da has bought one but doesn't know much bout it. thanks. btw his is a 32 cal

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on December 19, 2010:

Thanks for reading, WillStarr.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on December 19, 2010:

Derringers are still being sold, and they come in calibers as large as .40 S&W, but that's a lot of recoil in so small a gun.

Great stuff Suzie.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on October 24, 2010:

Thanks Ben and Nell. The Derringer is a mighty little pistol.

Nell Rose from England on October 24, 2010:

Hi, I also didn't know it was the gun that shot Lincoln, fascinating history! And I love reading this sort of thing as it adds to my store of knowledge so when I am yelling at the tv when a quiz comes up with this question I will know the answer! lol thanks nell

Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on October 20, 2010:

Very cool Suzie, the Deringer conjures up a lot of Western mystery to me. I had no idea it was the pistol used to shoot Lincoln, wicked.


suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on October 13, 2010:

Dirk L and Joey - Thank you both for reading.

Joey Bennett on October 13, 2010:

Great example of good things coming in small packages. It is great to see guns that were used so long ago are still being utilized and appreciate today. Great hub!

Dirk L. on October 10, 2010:


If you like to see more derringers, plse take a look on my website

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on August 31, 2010:

Mike - You ought to join in the fun. Thanks for reading.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on August 31, 2010:

Prey - They are quite spectacular. 7 cats lol.

RTalloni on August 31, 2010:

What a neat little gun this was. The Hal Groat video was terrific too!

Mike l on August 26, 2010:

Never heard of Hubs before, this is the second one I have looked at. Great job. Thanks

prey from places you should hope we never meet on August 14, 2010:

suzie, fantastic hub!

These examples are great, learned much!

but must confess, I certainly must have one! What a great accessory for my purse :)

of course for my friend kimberly, as I can bite as self defense, quicker than any gun

great hub, cheers

ps-do you own a cat? 7 years old? ha

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 23, 2010:

Reuvera - I'm not into weapons either but I do like the history behind them. Thanks for reading.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 23, 2010:

Habee - they are pretty cool.

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on July 18, 2010:

Ahh, I love it when history is so throughly displayed. Thanks!

valeriebelew from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on July 13, 2010:

Interesting, suziecat. I was not familier with those guns; maybe I should have one. LOL. Thanks for a good informative hub. (:v

ReuVera from USA on July 12, 2010:

I am not into weapons, but this story surely got my attention! Thanks for amazing information.

Holle Abee from Georgia on July 11, 2010:

Great historic info. We have a Derringer!

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 11, 2010:

Darlene - I love history too. Thanks for your kind words.

Johnsams - Appreciate your comment.

Drbj - Thanks for commenting. It's always nice to learn things, isn't it? It's one of the many reasons I love hubbing.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on July 10, 2010:

Suziecat - What an excellently researched document of derringer derring-do you have described. You have greatly enhanced my derringer education. Thank you. :)

johnsams on July 10, 2010:

Great hub you've got there, well written and informative. Cheers!

Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on July 10, 2010:

What a great hub, I love history of America and all the way that events happen...I really love your writing and the videos, great hub thumb up my friend,

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 07, 2010:

Hi Seakay - I think you're right about Bat. I'm glad you enjoyed.

Seakay from Florida on July 06, 2010:

Didn't Bat Masterson (played by Gene Berry?) also carry a derringer? A pearl handled derringer?

I just love the reruns of all the old westerns! Bonanza, Wagon Train with the cute scout .... and Barnaby, the teenager.. and Ward Bond... good grief, I'm OLD! (LOL)

Love the old west. Great hub Suziecat7! Thanks for the memories...

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 06, 2010:

Jael - thanks for reading. I'll check out your Hub.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 06, 2010:

Carolina - so true. I feel the same way about driving a small car with the motor in front. Thanks for commenting.

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on July 06, 2010:

I love to shoot, but not those things.. the sensation of the barrel firing that close to your hand is jarring!

Great post!!!!

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 05, 2010:

Ethel - they don't make them like that any more.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 05, 2010:

Billy - Used by outlaws yes - thanks for stopping by.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on July 05, 2010:

Definitely were part of my childhood, those westerns! Great info!

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on July 05, 2010:

Reminds me of those childhood westerns.

billyaustindillon on July 05, 2010:

Great history I had no clue - I was thinking John Derringer the outlaw - thank you for the history lesson.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 04, 2010:

Prasetio - I also hope we can all live in peace. Thanks for reading.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 04, 2010:

Loria - they are powerful enough but not very accurate. Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 04, 2010:

Teresa - It was popular because it was so small and easily concealed. Thank you so much for commenting.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on July 04, 2010:

Good morning, Suzie. I never know about The Derringer Pistol before. But it open my eyes about this gun and give me new information. I heard so many bad incident caused by the gun owner. I hope it not happen again and we can living peace. Thank you very much. I rate this one.


loriamoore on July 04, 2010:

They're cute, but I can't imagine them being very powerful. It would definitely have to be a gut-to-gut shot.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on July 04, 2010:

It's interesting that such a small gun would be so popular. Good hub.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 04, 2010:

Mentalist acer - thanks.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on July 04, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by Dahoglund. I like TV westerns myself.

Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on July 04, 2010:

A very detailed and informative update to the derringer Suziecat:)!!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on July 04, 2010:

I am a fan of TV westerns and seen much of what you describe, but it is a nice summary. You have a lot of background that I did not know. good hub.

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