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The Derringer Pistol - America's Smallest Gun

Updated on November 6, 2017

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 profile image

      platinumOwl4 5 years ago

      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 profile image

      suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Sorry, Rosemary, couldn't tell you.

    • profile image

      rosemary 5 years ago

      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 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks for reading, WillStarr.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 years ago from England

      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 profile image

      Ben Zoltak 7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      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 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Dirk L and Joey - Thank you both for reading.

    • profile image

      Joey Bennett 7 years ago

      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!

    • profile image

      Dirk L. 7 years ago


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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Prey - They are quite spectacular. 7 cats lol.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

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

    • profile image

      Mike l 7 years ago

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

    • prey profile image

      prey 7 years ago from places you should hope we never meet

      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 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Habee - they are pretty cool.

    • lxxy profile image

      lxxy 7 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

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

    • valeriebelew profile image

      valeriebelew 7 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

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

    • ReuVera profile image

      ReuVera 7 years ago from USA

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

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Great historic info. We have a Derringer!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      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 profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

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

    • johnsams profile image

      johnsams 7 years ago

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

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      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 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 7 years ago from Florida

      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 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • Jael Turner profile image

      Jael Turner 7 years ago

      My Dad, who was a gunsmith at one time, used to own a derringer which he let us shoot occasionally. Maybe that's why I feature this particular weapon in my Hubpages Western. jael

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

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

      Great post!!!!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

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

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Reminds me of those childhood westerns.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      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.


    • profile image

      loriamoore 7 years ago

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

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

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

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Mentalist acer - thanks.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

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

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

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

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      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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