Believe it or not, there was actually a time when the GLOCK 19 didn’t exist and the masses were craving a compact, high capacity quality-made pistol. The options back then were pretty limited. This was the 1970s we’re talking about here. You could carry concealable pistols like the Walther PPK/S or maybe a Beretta M1934.
The majority of gun owners stuck with the tried and true classics of the era: the D-Frame Colt, the J-Frame Smith & Wesson or the odd man out, the Charter Arms Undercover. All in .38 Special and limited to five or six rounds at most. The market just didn’t have a high-capacity 9mm that was compact, lightweight and comfortable enough to carry concealed.
That is until an enterprising individual name Charles Kelsey teamed up with Ken Hackathorn. (Yes, the same Ken Hackathorn of 1911 fame.) Together they designed and built what was and still is considered the Goldilocks gun for conceal carry (for the time). A compact double-stack 9mm that can, in a pinch, be used as a primary combat service weapon that’s still light and compact enough to be easily concealed.
They started with aluminum framed Smith & Wesson Model 59 pistols and went to work; shortening the barrel, slide and grip. They used fixed barrel bushings, making lightening cuts and channels to the slide. They bobbed the hammer, narrowed the trigger guard and gave it an undercut. The laser cut large witness holes the magazine and used clear polymer windows on grip panels so the shooter could see their ammunition count in the weapon.
They called their pistol the Devel Custom and it was a great pistol — with one minor caveat. It was ungodly expensive. You had to buy a stock Model 59 and then send it off to get the work done. Not cheap, even in 1980s Cold War money. Charles Kelsey’s murder under mysterious circumstances didn’t help the company or the buyer.
With their introduction of second generation semi-automatic pistols like the S&W Model 459 and 559, Smith & Weston saw what the market wanted. They came out with the Model 469 and 669. (This is where the start of the insane numbering system was born.) A compact 9mm that looks strangely like the Devel Custom Model 59 right?
S&W Model 669, a 12+1 round capacity compact aluminum framed pistol
Well, Smith & Wesson weren’t fools. As a company they never suffered from the “Not Invented Here” syndrome. They’re in the business to make money, and in the 1980s, business was good. Agencies all across the country were ditching their wheel guns and going for those newfangled wondernines. At the same time, the modern Concealed Carry Movement was born in 1987, when Florida went shall issue.
The Model 469 and 669 evolved into the third Generation series just like all the other pistols in Smith & Wesson’s lineup. The Model 6904 and 6906 came out and were instant hits.
S&W Model 6906, the updated and revised Wondernine Era classic
Finally, an affordable, well made, double action, compact aluminum framed, double 9mm pistol was on the market. With a normal capacity of 12+1 it made the last decade’s standard of the single stack .380s and .32 Autos look like something that belonged in a museum.
Even better: the new guns could use factory standard 15-round magazines from the full size models without a problem. Smith & Wesson even partnered with Precision Gun Specialties and sold their factory magazines with the PGS Grip 2 baseplates installed. Giving the shooter a full size grip.
Cops and other citizens alike across the country snapped them up in record numbers.
Early 1989 Production S&W Model 6904 with PGS Grip 2 baseplate on a 5906 15rd magazine
The Wondernine Era is long gone. The market is accustomed to the idea of the compact double stack 9mm. With the introduction of the GLOCK 19, The People of the Gun had another option.
Even so, the S&W Model 6906 and its ballistic brethren kept right on trucking. The S&W didn’t cease production until the early to mid 2000s, lasting on the market for close to 25 years. They were and remain reliable, compact, concealable 9mm pistols.