Introduced in 1955 Smith & Wesson's Bodyguard was originally produced as an alloy frame, 5-shot .38 Special pocket gun, another variation on the company's very popular Chiefs Special model which itself came out in 1950. The main difference between the Bodyguard and other "J" frame models was the addition of a shrouded hammer on the revolver which allowed it to be more easily carried (and fired) in a pocket. Unlike the earlier Centennial model that had a fully enclosed hammer and only fired double action the hammer of the Bodyguard was only covered on the sides leaving the thumb pad exposed. You could still cock the hammer of the Bodyguard to fire single action if you desired. The first Bodyguard was the Airweight model, which was renamed the Model 38 in 1957. In 1959 an all steel version called the Model 49 was introduced, in 1985 the stainless steel Model 649 came out and in 1989 a limited production stainless/alloy Model 638 first hit the dealer's shelves. Over the years the various Bodyguard revolvers have become a classic, a much loved pocket gun carried and used by countless thousands of people that can appreciate it as a valuable self-defense tool.
I have used Smith & Wesson Bodyguards for many years now and for several of those years they were my main carry gun. In my opinion they are the perfect pocket pistol. You will hear the occasional internet/gun shop horror story about Bodyguards jamming at the worst possible time leaving their owner defenseless, a bit of pocket lint or maybe a penny or dime turning the Bodyguard into a worthless paperweight. Having carried one without any problems for well over a decade now I can honestly say my Bodyguard has never let me down and I don't expect it ever will. But you must use the gun with a little common sense. Like for instance cleaning it on a regular occasion and if carrying the Bodyguard as a pocket gun making sure to carry it by itself in that pocket. Even so I must say that when my 649 was my main carry gun I would often take it to the range and just pull it out of my pocket holster and start shooting, lent and all. Not once did it fail.
Over the years I have owned several Model 49s and my 649 that I purchased new in 1996. My 649 was one of the last made in .38 Special before S&W went to a slightly larger version in .357 Magnum. Currently though I have only two in my gun safe, the 649 which still sees a lot of use and an all original 1967 Model 49 that I must admit I have hardly used at all. Being that it's over 40 years old and still in excellent condition I am a little reluctant to carry it, although it has gone on a rare "field trip" out of the safe a few times to substitute for my 649.
Additional information from Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson (3rd Edition) by Supica and Nahas.