The history of revolvers is long and diverse. It began long before Samuel Colt or DB Wesson. While black powder cap and ball rifles were involved in many battles, I skipped over black powder revolvers as they are of less interest and with less staying power than cartridge revolvers. Just the same, keep watching these pages for more on early revolvers.
Many of the revolvers covered in this report were manufactured in the millions. As an example, the Smith and Wesson Military & Police Hand Ejector has been in continuous production for 124 years. Not to mention the Colt 1873, although it has not been continual production over the last 150 years. Then again, the Colt Three-Fifty-Seven manufacturing only saw 30,000 units. Let’s look at some of the most enduring designs.
Smith and Wesson Hand Ejector
The original Smith and Wesson Hand Ejector was a .32 caliber double-action revolver with a swing-out cylinder. It was among the first of its kind, although Colt had a swing-out cylinder revolver first. The quality and easy operation of the Hand Ejector, and its easy loading and unloading, ensured its success.
The Hand Ejector was built on the I-Frame. It was later modified into the hugely successful J-Frame and chambered first for the .38 Special and later the .357 Magnum. I-Frame Hand Ejector revolvers were offered in .32 Smith and Wesson Long and .38 Smith and Wesson. The latter was released in a five-shot version.
The Hand Ejector was the revolver that changed the world forever. It led to many interesting developments. The Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special .38 is a direct descendant of the Hand Ejector.
Smith and Wesson Military & Police
The .38 Hand Ejector, as it is sometimes referred to, is the single most successful revolver of all time. Introduced in 1899, and in its fifth model version by 1905, the Hand Ejector chambered an improved version of the .38 Colt cartridge labeled .38 Smith & Wesson Special.
The medium-frame medium-power revolver is well balanced, famously reliable, featuring a smooth action. It wasn’t too heavy for constant carry. Chambered in .22, .32-20, .38 S&W, .38 Special, 9mm, and .357 Magnum in different models, the Military & Police revolver has seen more gunfights than perhaps all the other revolvers put together. The K-Frame .38 spun off the Combat Masterpiece, Combat Magnum, Model 13, and various stainless steel revolvers. It is still in production.
The Colt Top Strap, Single Action Army, Frontier Six Shooter, or simply the Peacemaker is an American Icon. The threat profile of the day was a mounted adversary as well as the many dangerous animals on the American frontier. The .45 Colt cartridge was designed to be effective against an Indian war pony at 100 yards. In many battles of the day, more horses than men died.
The Colt SAA may not have been the most advanced revolver of the day, but it was robust, well balanced, and fast into action. It is still a popular field and trail revolver and among the most popular recreational revolvers in the country.
Chambered for many different cartridges during its long life, the Colt is best associated with the iconic .45 Colt cartridge. So long as Americans love cowboy movies and drovers, the SAA is likely to remain popular.
Colt’s .41 Frame Revolvers
Colt’s revolvers spanned several frame sizes. Among the most popular was the Official Police in .41 Long Colt. The .41 Colt is a lousy, old round firing a .384-inch bullet at low velocity. Just the same, it was superior to the lackluster .38 Colt.
The .38 Special is a good choice for these handguns. Perhaps the finest of these revolvers is the Colt Three-Fifty-Seven. With production beginning in the 1950s and ending in 1963, the Three-Fifty-Seven is a smooth, accurate, and a superbly fast-handling revolver. While it was not as popular as the Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum, a Colt man could do great shooting with this handgun. The fixed sight Official Police was much the same.
The newly reintroduced Colt Python is a shooters dream. The new revolver is stronger than the original and better suited to a steady shooting regimen. Each are deluxe revolvers with a heavy barrel, distinctive barrel rib, and hand honed action. These are fantastic shooting guns for the revolver shooter willing to master their unique action. While the original demands scalper prices, the new revolver is also a great shooter. Nothing has quite the bling of the Colt Python.
Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum (Model 19, Model 66)
The late Bill Jordan labeled the Combat Magnum ‘a peace officers dream.’ In the mid 1950s, metal science and heat treating had advanced to the point that a K-Frame revolver could be chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge. The Combat Magnum is a modified Combat Masterpiece .38 Special revolver with the cylinder lengthened to accept the longer magnum cartridge.
At the time, the training schedule recommended was 20 .38 Special loads for every magnum. The Combat Magnum is relatively light, features a shrouded ejector rod, adjustable sights, and an excellent trigger action. The Combat Magnum was the prestige issue revolver for decades.
Ruger Speed Six
Ruger’s Security Six featured a .41 frame, rugged lock work, and fully adjustable sights. The revolver is nearly as accurate as the Python — according to its many fans. The Speed Six is a .357 Magnum revolver with fixed sights and a round butt — a concealed carry or rough service version of the rugged and reliable Security Six. I have a long history with this revolver. While the later GP100 is doubtless stronger and more durable, the Speed Six is among the fastest handling Ruger revolvers every manufactured.
The Ruger GP100 is tank tough. This heavy-duty .357 Magnum revolver offers excellent accuracy fit and finish. The action is smooth. The revolver doesn’t feature the problematic action lock found on some modern revolvers.
The GP100 won’t break the bank, but it will accomplish anything any other revolver will do while refusing to break down or go out of time. The Ruger is also offered in a 10mm version and even a super accurate .22 version. This is among the sturdiest revolvers ever manufactured.
Charter Arms Bulldog, Boxer, and Others
Charter Arms began manufacturing revolvers during the Vietnam War. Good quality revolvers were difficult to come by. Charter Arms offered a reliable revolver at a fair price, allowing many Americans on a budget to own decent home protection. The original product was the Charter Arms Undercover, a lightweight .38 Special using a steel frame.
The Undercover featured a modern, transfer bar ignition action. In the early 1970s, Charter Arms introduced the five-shot .44 Special Bulldog. The Bulldog was a sensation. Later versions were offered in .357 Magnum.
The six-shot Boxer is a light, handy .38 Special version of the Bulldog. The smaller five-shot .38s are more common while the slightly larger handguns are easier to shoot well. These revolvers fill an important niche between expensive but high quality revolvers and rougher cheap guns.
The Chiappa is a unique, even fantastic, design. The barrel is located low on the receiver. The revolver fires from the lower chamber. The double-action trigger is very smooth. A cocking lever allows the shooter to cock the internal hammer for single-action shots.
The revolver is very easy to use well. Despite an unusual appearance, the Chiappa Rhino is among the most ergonomic revolvers every manufactured. This isn’t a traditional revolver, but it is certainly a shooter’s revolver.