We were allowed to carry only a .38 Special with a 4 inch barrel. They bent the rules a little and allowed us to carry a .357 Magnum pistol, but we had to load it with .38 Specials. They were kind of "loose" with this policy, but no one knew much better.
Now the commanding officers were good guys, but they didn't really know much about ballistics, as not many people did back in those days. The .38 Special had been the service pistol for police officers all across the country for 50+ years, and it was "what you used".
I had always been interested in ballistics and began to study the subject. I knew that the .38 Special was on the "weak" side, but what could you do?
But one day, I was talking with an old Patrolman and he was carrying a .357 Magnum and had it loaded with .357 Magnum rounds. I asked him why and he said, "Because the .357 Magnum is the Hookin' Bull."
I knew then that I had to get one.
The .357 Magnum was designed in the mid-1930s after some experiments by Elmer Keith, where he use a heavy pistol called the .38/44 Heavy Duty, which was a pistol with a heavy .44 Special frame in .38 Special and loaded it hotter and hotter until he had about maxed out the potential velocity. He talked S&W and Remington into developing a cartridge that had a case that was approximately one-tenth of an inch longer than the .38 Special and to call it the .357 Magnum. Both the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum use bullets that are .357 or .358 inches in diameter. But the longer case of the .357 Magnum would prevent the hotter cartridges from being loaded into weaker .38 Special pistols.
The result was a great round. It originally had a Keith-type semi-wadcutter bullet of around 160 grains, loaded to a scorching 1,500+ fps in the original loadings. This was soon reduced to around 1,400 fps, still plenty hot.
This new cartridge was much more powerful that the old .38 Special rounds which were usually loaded to around 800 fps, and was used by Elmer Keith and Col. Wesson to take just about every game animal in North America.
It is important to understand that in those days, reliable Jacketed Hollow Point or Soft Point bullets were unknown and unavailable. But a good Keith bullet with a large, flat meplat was about the best thing going. It remained so for many years.
Of course, false rumors soon ran rampant about the .357 Magnum, such as the rumor that it would "bust a motor block on a car". It will, of course, do no such thing.
But it sure did penetrate doors and tires, and bad guys very well.