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Southern Gilbert and Gunnison style revlover taken in natural light on a wood shelf with a rusty white background

The History of Revolvers

The History of Revolvers

Revolvers were an important development in the history of firearms, and continue to be a popular choice for many gun owners today. These guns have a revolving barrel that allows the user to fire multiple times before reloading, which was an essential step in gun history since reloading for every shot was previously a massive limitation for firearms. There are many different types of modern and historical revolvers, and understanding the history of this type of gun can help you appreciate all these varieties.

The Issue With Reloading Early Guns

Prior to revolvers, reloading a firearm was a time-consuming process. In order to fire an early gun just once, the user would need to pour powder down the muzzle, insert the projectile, then set off a controlled explosion. This process typically took a minute or more, leaving the shooter vulnerable to a counter-attack. Because of this, the creation of a gun that allowed the user to fire more than once was a significant improvement.

Early Revolver-Like Designs

The first weapon with a similar design to a revolver (i.e. the ability to fire multiple projectiles from the same unit without reloading) was a type of pole gun that arose in China in the 1500s. This had three separate barrels attached to a central staff, and to fire, each barrel would have a flame lit to shoot the poles. The ability to fire multiple times gave users of these pole guns an advantage in battle, but the weapons suffered in terms of accuracy.

In 1718, James Puckle created the first gun with a rotating cylinder. Its design was closer to an early machine gun than a revolver and it could fire up to 63 rounds in less than eight minutes. This was a significant accomplishment for the time period.

A flintlock with a revolving cylinder was invented in 1818 by Elisha Collier, an English inventor. Although it was an inspiration for the revolver design shooters today are familiar with, it was limited by its inefficient mechanism and use of black powder.

Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt, the founder of Colt Firearms Company, should be a familiar name to anyone interested in firearms history. He patented his "revolving gun" in 1836. However, it didn't receive widespread recognition until 1847, when Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers ordered 1,000 of this firearm. The revolver's role in the Mexican-American War increased its popularity among Western settlers. In addition to being a prominent style of firearm in the Wild West, the revolver was also well-known as a Civil War weapon. In fact, Colt openly sold his guns to both sides in the conflict.

Double-Action Revolvers

One of the major improvements to Colt's design in the history of revolvers was the first double-action revolver, which Robert Adams patented in 1851. This allowed users to cock the hammer and release it with one trigger pull, allowing for a greater rate of fire compared to single-action guns. Although double-action guns didn't catch on for several decades due to reliability issues caused by the manufacturing process, assembly line improvements eventually resolved these issues and the guns grew in popularity. Today, most revolvers use a double-action mechanism, although some still use the time-tested single-action design.

Revolver Replicas

Since revolvers have been around for so long, there are many famous iterations from different time periods, including both historical revolvers and pop culture guns.  Some examples include the "Dirty Harry" revolver and the M1860, which was used in the Civil War. At Armory, we have a selection of non-firing revolver replicas that are suitable for collectors and for use in film and television productions.

Browse our site today to see our non-firing revolvers and other replica guns.

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