Origins of the Revolver


 Entrepreneurs Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson came together under the dream of developing a repeating firearm. This dream was realized, and their fame “came from the development of the first practical self-contained metallic cartridge in America and the revolver from which it was to be fired”[1]


            Until 1816, Flintlocks were the primary firearm of choice. They required gunpowder (kept in a powder horn), flint, steel, and a lead ball. The loading and firing of the flintlock took time, requiring first the hammer to be half cocked, the gunpowder poured, the bullet wrapped and rammed down the barrel, more gunpowder to be added, fully cocking the hammer and then firing the gun. This method was time-consuming and only allowed single-fire shots.[2]

            The replacement for the flintlock was an easier to load, more weather resistant and more reliable percussion cap gun. These transitioned from gunpowder poured down the tube to a new, highly explosive, shock sensitive substance called mercuric fulminate being contained in a pre-made cap. This

system was used during the Civil War and led to our modern bullet. The percussion cap gun, however, still did not allow for multiple rounds to be fired without reloading. [3]

 In 1856, Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 1 revolver. This revolver was one of several multi-shot weapons introduced during the Civil War era, but was innovative in that it had a self contained cartridge that allowed seven bullets to be loaded and fired. They built their model after a system that Colt (another gun tycoon) had used, improving it to overcome faults Colt had not foreseen. They expanded the chambers in the cylinder to go through and through, allowing for the percussion system to be used effectively.  This model went through several different variations, including the model 1 second issue .[4] 

 After the end of the Civil War,  an economic recession and subsequent decline in handgun sales led Smith & Wesson to retire the Model 1 Second Issue “in favor of a new streamlined, more modern-appearing revolver”[5] . Thus, other models and issues came into favor.



[1]  Jinks, Roy G. and Neal, Robert J. Smith & Wesson: 1857-1945. New Jersey: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1966 pg 1

[2] Brian, Marshall. "How Flintlock Guns Work"" Howstuffworks "Science" Discovery. Web. 12 Apr. 2011. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/flintlock2.htm>

[3] Brian, Marshall. "How Flintlock Guns Work"" Howstuffworks "Science" Discovery. Web. 12 Apr. 2011. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/flintlock5.htm>.

[4] Boorman, Dean K. “The Cartridge Revolver Through the Civil War.” The History of Smith & Wesson Firearms. Connecticut: Salamander Books, 2002. 20-24 http://books.google.com [image from page 23]

[5] Jinks, Roy G. History of Smith & Wesson: No Thing of Importance Will Come Without Effort. California: Beinfeld Publishing Inc, 1977

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