How Did the Revolver Evolve?
What Was the First Revolver (and Who Made It)?
The year was 1836 and Samuel Colt, a young 22 year old man, was granted a U.S. Patent for the revolver mechanism.1This mechanism lets a firearm fire multiple times without having to reload, a revolutionary (pun intended) concept for the time. He would go on to found his manufacturing company to produce the revolvers, which would become known as the “Colt Walker.” At first, Colt outsourced the production to a neighboring armory owned by Eli Whitney Jr. Soon thereafter, the Colt Armory opened for business and began producing the Colt Walker.
Although a few Colt revolvers would be produced throughout the first decade of the manufacturing operation, Samuel Colt would strike gold when the U.S. Military purchased a thousand Colt revolvers in 1846 for use in the Mexican War. Technically, the guns were made for Texas volunteers (of which whom eventually become the Texas Rangers).2Being the son of a textile manufacturer, Samuel Colt was a natural-born manufacturing genius. He pioneered the use of assembly line-like strategy (which had not yet been invented), interchangeable parts, and other organized production techniques. Ultimately, the Colt manufacturing process was producing about 150 guns a day by the mid 1850s.3
How Did Early Revolvers Work?
Samuel Colt had an interesting early life which included being expelled from school and sent on a seafaring voyage. On this ship, Colt would find himself captivated by the way the ship’s wheel could spin alternatively and also be locked into position. The clutch of the wheel and its controlled function created the rotating concept that would then be transferred into the world of firearms. His first prototype of a revolver was a six barrel cylinder and locking pin, with a hammer, all made out of wood. He carved this prototype during his time at sea. It would quickly be replaced by a more productive, lighter weight design: a single barrel with 6 internal cylinders. The first metal prototype of Colt’s revolver concept revolves the cylinder as the hammer is is drawn back. Unfortunately this first metal prototype exploded.4
Soon after the first metal prototype of the original Colt revolver exploded, Colt created a modified second attempt. This second attempt added a cylinder locking system, in addition to partitions separating the percussion caps. This model was significantly improved. It included a single barrel and as the hammer were cocked, the cylinder unlocked and rotated to the next chamber. As the chamber sets into place, the cylinder is relocked, and the gun is ready to fire. By the time the prototype had evolved enough for patent, and to be sold to the government, it would become the most powerful revolver and reign as the best for decades. The gun was named the Colt Walker to honor Captain Samuel Walker, whom helped encourage that first purchase with extreme ambition.4
The Colt Walker was a large gun, weighing about 4 and a half pounds. The Colt Walker effectively made the sword and any melee arm obsolete, as the ability to fire more than once without reloading significantly changed battle. In fact, the Colt Walker also birthed what is known as the “American Gunfighter.” The Dragoon, a later model shooting .44 caliber rounds, was designed specifically for the U.S. Army’s Regiment of Mounted Rifles. Being an enhanced version of the Colt Walker, the Colt Dragoon was designed specifically to resolve many complications which had been experienced with the Walker.5
Following Samuel Colt’s death in 1862, the Colt’s Manufacturing Company would continue to do business, supply the U.S. military with arms, and create new prototypes. The standard service revolver in the U.S. Military from 1873 to 1892 would become the Colt .45. This gun was also known as the Colt Peacemaker, or the Single Action Army (SAA) Model P. The Peacemaker was much lighter than previous Colt revolvers, weighing only 3 pounds. American gunfighters typically preferred the shorter barrel design, while lawmen preferred the longer barrel (which had a knife blade front sight that could be sharpened and used to pistol whip unsuspecting violators).6
More Colt Revolvers From the Early 1900s
Colt’s Manufacturing Company continued to awe the gun world in developing several other landmark firearms beyond the Colt Peacemaker. In the early 1900s, Colt released an Officer’s Model, a special legendary firearm that spread in popularity throughout U.S. Police forces. Colt also released the “Colt Detective Special” which reigned in use from 1927 to the mid 1970s.4 In 1955, Colt introduced a new revolver called the “Colt Python,” which fired .357 Magnum caliber rounds. The Colt Python came in a bright nickel or royal blued finish, and was a full steel and wood revolver. Some folk still call it “the best revolver of all time.”7 Some of the reasons the gun experienced such favorable reviews included: an oversized trigger (allowing for gloved shooting), multiple barrel sizes, being handmade, beautiful finishes and design, and flaunted awesome accuracy right out of the box. The gun gave a strong nod to the old west and was on the heavier side, weighing 2 pounds and 6 ounces.
How do Modern Revolvers Work?
Despite the fact that the Colt Python was discontinued in 2005, it would still be considered an older firearm. It is still worth mentioning here though, because it absolutely competed with relevant, modern-world revolvers. Some of the other revolvers produced in modern days include:
- Colt Cobra .38 Special
- JANZ Präzisionstechnik JTL-E and JTL-S
- Kimber K6S
- Korth Conversion Cylinder
- Korth Mongoose .357
- Korth Sky Hawk 9mm
- Korth Super Sport
- Ruger GP100 .22LR
- Ruger Redhawk 357
- Smith & Wesson Model 686
- Uberti 1873 Cattleman Short Stroke SASS Pro (produced in the 1950s and later)
Modern revolvers range in manufacturing techniques and styles. Some are outfitted with extreme aesthetics and upgrades (JANZ JTL-E, Korth Super Sport). Others are basic, and focus more strictly on reliability (Kimber K6s, Korth Conversion Cylinder, Ruger GP100, Uberti Cattleman). Just like they have always been, revolvers remain simple to operate. Their functioning and mechanical operation has not changed much, although some guns (such as the Ruger GP100) have designed cylinders that can take more than just 6 rounds. Also, the frame material and weight of modern revolvers tends to be lighter than their predecessors. Though, modern revolvers tend to be more accurate, more durable, and more impressive in appearance.
What Is The Difference Between Double-Action and Single-Action Revolvers?
There are many types of revolvers, however, they generally fit into one of two categories: double-action or single-action. Single-action revolvers are usually easily characterized by the rising of the barrel, per-shot, and the need to cock the hammer every time. There our many manufacturers of single-action-style revolvers, including: Colt, Freedom Arms, Magnum, Ruger, and Uberti. Single-action revolvers come in calibers large enough for big game hunting. Many single-action revolvers (including the Colt Peacemaker) are equipped with what is known as a “plow handle,” which looks great but sports a wonderful recoil effect.
Double-action revolvers transfer the recoil energy into the hand, creating the ability to easily refire. One of the greatest advantages of a double-action revolver, however, is the ability to fire without drawing the hammer back. This means firing can happen more quickly. Double-action revolvers also typically allow for faster reloading. There are many manufacturers of double-action-style revolvers, including: Colt, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and Taurus. Ironically, a lot of double-action revolver shooters fail to utilize the double-action advantage.
Both revolver types, single-action and double-action, can be chambered in high calibers.
The Revolver Is Still Relevant Today
To this very day, many people prefer a revolver to semi-automatic guns. There are a lot of reasons for this, but namely, the reliability of a revolver is the deciding factor. Samuel Colt and the Colt’s Manufacturing Company greatly propelled the popularity, effectiveness, and reliability of the sidearm to being what it is in modern times. The revolver is one of the best self-defense weapons because it is super easy to fire accurately, rarely has any jamming issues, and is simple to maintain. The ease of use and more certain dependability are the reasons these guns still have a place in modern times. A lot of revolvers are also easy to conceal carry.
1U.S. Patents. USX9430I1 Retrieved from: https://patents.google.com/patent/USX9430
2Roe, Joseph Wickham (1916), English and American Tool Builders, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, LCCN 16011753
3A&E and History.com. Samuel Colt. Retrieved from:https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/samuel-colt
4Colt Fever. The Colt Legend. Retrieved from: http://www.coltfever.com/The_Colt_Legend.html
5Rick Sapp (2007). Standard Catalog of Colt Firearms. F+W Media, Inc. pp. 35–40.
6True West Magazine. The Peacemaker. Retrieved from:https://truewestmagazine.com/the-peacemaker/
7National Interest. The Colt Python: The Best Revolver Ever Made. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-colt-python-the-best-revolver-ever-made-23924
About the Author:
Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith
The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.
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