Little Bits of History

Stick ‘Em Up

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 5, 2013
Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt

March 5, 1836: Samuel Colt makes his first production model of a .34-caliber revolver. Pepper-box weapons predated true revolvers and had a revolving cylinder – each with its own barrel – and one firing mechanism. Snaphance weapons were the next improvement and allowed for a single barrel. These were produced from as early as the 1680s. Elisha Collier patented a flintlock revolver in England in 1818 and that gun was in production in London by 1822. Colt patented his new version of the weapon after being inspired by a capstan winch while aboard ship. The movement of the winch helped him develop a method of movement for the cylinder.

A revolver has several firing chambers arranged in a circular pattern that allows the bullet to be aligned with both the firing mechanism and the barrel. Colt’s gun had six firing chambers or slots for ammunition. They became a favorite in the “Wild West” and “six-shooter” became synonymous with revolver even though other numbers of chambers are possible. Guns are manufactured with as few as five chambers and as many as ten. This depends on the overall size of the gun physically and the caliber of the ammunition – the diameter of the casing that holds the “ingredients” for a bullet.

The time needed for reloading decreased with each improvement. Early revolvers had to be dismantled and the cylinder completely removed, reloaded, and then reassembled. A loading gate was incorporated into the design allowing for one slot access which permitted the owner to get rid of the casing and insert a new bullet, one at a time but without taking the gun apart. Then the top-break method was introduced and a hinge was placed at the bottom front of the cylinder. The next improvement was the swing-out cylinder where the mechanism is mounted on a pivot. Then speed loaders were invented which could load all the chambers in one movement.

Single action shooting means the hammer is cocked by hand and then the trigger is pressed. The human must perform two separate actions for the gun to fire. Double action guns fire with the human pulling the trigger and the gun’s mechanism pulls back the hammer and fires the bullet. Double action guns use a longer trigger pull to make them work and are therefore less accurate than single shot guns.

“The mere possession of a gun is, in itself, an urge to kill, not only by design, but by accident, by madness, by fright, by bravado.” – Chicago Daily News

“You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.” – Al Capone

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.” – P. G. Wodehouse

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” – Mao Tse-Tung

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Samuel Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814. Colt’s mother died when he was seven and his father remarried. By age 11, Sam was indentured to a farmer but he was still able to attend school. He loved learning about science and was particularly fascinated by Robert Fulton and gunpowder. At 15, Sam began working at his father’s textile plant which gave him access to tools, materials, and other workers’ vast store of experience. He got directions from an encyclopedia and managed to build a galvanic cell and advertised that he would create an underwater explosion with the device. He missed his target but managed to create an impressive display with the explosion itself. He eventually founded Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company, still in business but today called Colt’s Manufacturing Company.

Also on this day: The Royal Italian Opera – In 1856, the Royal Italian Opera house burned to the ground.
Boston Massacre – In 1770, five men were killed during a riot in Boston.
Iron Curtain – In 1946, Winston Churchill first publicly used the term “Iron Curtain”.

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