Handgun Radio 223 - A History of Speedloaders with Daniel Watters

Hello and welcome to Handgun Radio! I’m your host Ryan Michad from the wild woods of Central Maine, and this is your home for all the news, information and discussion in the handgunning world.


This week, Daniel Watters discusses the history of speedloaders!

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Week in Review:

Figured we’d skip the week in review. Just wanted to remind everyone to send in their 1899 loadout to handgunradio@gmail.com or to the facebook page! We’ve gotten a lot of great entries so far!

Listener Emails:

Name: Jon

Subject: Mare’s Leg!

Message: Hey, fellas! New(ish) shooter here, and a huge fan.

So, I up and bought a Henry Mare’s Leg in .357 this week, mostly because of Steve McQueen, and Firefly. It looks badass, I don’t own anything like it, and dammit, I’m a grown-ass man, and if I want a range toy, I’m gonna’ buy a range toy.

So, while I wait for it to arrive, a couple questions for you gents.

1) What the hell do you suggest I do with the thing? Seriously, have y’all shot these? It’s a “taint gun”. ‘Taint a pistol, and ‘taint a shotgun. Is it as awkward to shoot as it looks?

2) What would I have to do (legally) to slap a full size stock on it, and just go SBR? I live in Virginia, if that makes a difference.

Keep up the terrific work, gents. The drink segment is my favorite.


Name: Quintin

Subject: 450 SMC

We talked about this last week but Daniel has some insight.

The founder and former president of Triton Ammunition Fernando Coelho often discussed the origins of the .45 Super and the .450 SMC in an online forum that he once owned. The employee responsible for the original off-color “SMC” designation was Triton’s Operations Manager, retired USMC Gunnery Sergeant David Schmidbauer.


Name: Rick

Subject: Jo.Lo.Ar. pistol

Message: Any help in field stripping this gun?

Thanks in advance,

Rick .....

Drink Segment:  Because I’m lazy Tonight  Speyburn 10 in a glass

Main Topic: A History of Speedloaders with Daniel Watters

Google Patents link for the US Patent Class which covers revolver speedloaders.

Additional articles and videos for visual reference:




Early speedloaders appeared not long after the first top-break and swing-open cylinder revolvers hit the market in the late 19th Century.

For instance, in 1878, Rollin White was awarded a pair of patents (US Patents #201,855 and #202,613) for belt-mounted, multiple-refill speedloaders for top-break revolvers, such as the S&W Model 3. The loader consists of an inner and outer tube, along with a center spring-loaded shaft. The drawings depict the loader filled five stacks of cartridges - 30 cartridges total. Each stack is held in place by spring tabs. By forcing the rear of the open cylinder against the mouth of the inner tube, all of the stacks are pushed forward, allowing for the stack of cartridges nearest to the cylinder to drop free. The design looks like it would be very sensitive to overall cartridge length. The second patent is basically the same idea as the first, but also incorporates an integral holster.



Probably one of the first designs that would be fairly relevant even today is US Patent #223,100 from 1879 by William H. Bell. It locks and unlocks by twisting. However, the design also allowed for the case rims to be trapped not only by a center locking piece but also an outer groove.


In 1881, Major George Scofield was awarded US Patent #239,676. Not surprisingly, it depicts his pet S&W Model 3. This was a push to release style, depending upon a conical collet bushing to lock the cartridge in place by friction. By pressing the loader onto the cylinder, a cup-shaped centerpiece would force the legs of the bushing together to loosen their tension on the cartridges.


Several years later in 1886, Daniel Baird Wesson came up his own speedloader along with a belt rig with multiple carriers that would be right at home at an ICORE match today - US Patent #354,454. The loaders were a twist to release type. Instead of acting as a locking piece, the center rotor merely forces the case rims into an outer groove for locking.


An early proponent of speedloader use was a US Army cavalry officer by the name of John C. Kelton.  He would eventually be promoted to Brigadier General upon becoming Adjutant General of the US Army.

Here is one of his vintage advocacy articles:

"Devices by Means of Which Effective Mounted Firing with the Pistol and Carbine can be Obtained by the Cavalry in Attack."

By Colonel J. C. Kelton

Assistant Adjutant General, US Army

Journal of the United States Cavalry Association (March 1888)

Kelton had personally designed and patented  the devices mentioned in his article, including the cartridge packs.


Kelton's designs look a bit fiddly compared to his historical counterparts, and I’m not certain that he ever made more than the prototypes he displayed.  Despite his rank and position, Kelton’s cartridge packs were not adopted.


Colt got in on the action in 1889 after the introduction of their swing-out cylinder revolvers. Carl J. Ebhets was awarded US Patent #402,424 for the “cartridge pack” designed as an accessory for his M1889 New Navy revolver. (Besides designing Colt's classic double-action revolvers, Ehbets would later act as Colt's patent attorney in preparing some of John M. Browning's semi-auto pistol patents.) Ebhets' design depended upon a center wedge to force the cartridge rims into an outer ring. By pressing the loader against the cylinder, the wedge would be forced to the rear, allowing the cartridges to drop free. The US Navy actually issued a pair of these in a belt pouch.


The first loader to bring the gap from the 19th to the 20th Century was the famous Prideaux Device. William de Courcy Prideaux was awarded his first English patent in 1893 which was covered by US Patent #516,942 in 1894. Prideaux continued to improve the loader, and was awarded US Patent #1,181,034 in 1916. Note that the first patent depicts a Webley Mark I revolver while the second patent shows a Colt New Service. The loader depends upon two rows of long spring tabs to hold the cartridges in place. The spring tabs are attached to an inner section of the loader, while the cartridge cases are backed by the outer section. When the loader is pressed against the cylinder, the outer section is pressed forward over the spring tab section. The cartridges are forced into the chambers past the spring tab section, which is blocked from movement by the face of the cylinder. The original design saw service during the Boer War while the improved variant was issued during World War I.







After taping, I discovered that Herman H. Kempf’s 1934 patented loader (US Patent #1,971,526) had actually been produced.  It was marketed by the Revolver Cartridge Clip Corp. of New York. Kempf’s loader was a side-stripping design featuring the cartridges arranged in a cylindrical fashion across three tiers. You inserted all six cartridges into the cylinder and pulled the loader directly to the side via a finger ring.  The neat feature was that the loader was hinged in the middle allowing it to be stored fairly flat in a carrying pouch. Upon removal from the pouch, a torsion spring would return the loader to its normal ready-to-load configuration.


You can see in the opening link that there was no shortage of speedloader patents in the early 20th Century. Some of them even used design concepts that would be resurrected multiple times by later inventors. However, none of these speedloaders really made a dent in the US police market until after the Second World War. Officers relied primarily on belt-mounted cartridge loops, dump pouches, or even their pockets to carry spare cartridges.

One of the earliest known issue speedloaders used by the Los Angeles Police Department was the “Spee-D-Loader.” While he filed his first application as early as 1948, Austin J. Grogan was not awarded US Patent #2,592,415 until 1952. The design is basically a flat metal strip with six pairs of spring fingers riveted along its length. The cartridge cases are held sideways by the spring fingers. The goal was to make a loader flat and compact enough to fit into a conventional dump-pouch designed for loose cartridges. These loaders were apparently still issued by the LAPD as late as the early 1970s. There is almost no documentation available on when they were first marketed or the available sizes, if any. A 1972-vintage article mentioned that the cartridge spacing on their sample would not allow them to load more than one chamber at a time.


The popularity of speedloaders didn't increase nationally until PPC competition started to hit an equipment race during the 1960s and '70s. The less time you spent reloading your revolver meant more time to aim and shoot on the timed course of fire. A few forward-thinking officers thought that if the speedloaders worked during a competition, why not use them on the street?

One of the earliest speedloaders to become popular during this era was the Hunt Multi-Loader. While John M. Hunt received US Patent #2,896,353 in 1959, I was not able to find advertisements predating 1963. In 1968, the design was picked up by Kel-Lite and marketed by Safariland as the “Firepower Clip.” Hunt's design was a cup-shaped piece of rubber that held the cartridges on the outer bottom surface. The cartridge rims were retained much like the later Bianchi Speed Strip. You inserted the rounds together into the cylinder, and then peeled the loader off. However, it was easier said than done. If you weren't careful, the act of peeling would pull a few cartridges back out of the chamber. Curiously, even after the original design was dropped by Safariland for the Comp I, Hunt continued to work on improving carriers for it, resulting in US Patent #4,079,536 in 1978.



In 1963, Ole N. Olson filed for a push button release speedloader design that was awarded US Patent #3,197,907 in 1965. The loaders were produced by Salinas Industries, and marketed by J.M. Bucheimer as early as 1964. The loaders would later be marketed as the “Feathertouch.” The cartridges were retained by a central flexible washer placed within the rear of the loader. The tiny pushbutton compresses the washer into an internal concave recess, freeing the rims of the cartridges. Some users have complained that the release of the cartridges was not always discernable or reliable. Olson noted in the patent that the washer was the first thing to wear out. You'll note in the attached advertisement that the early loaders were much longer than those seen in Mike Woods' linked article.


In 1965, Donald Matich received US Patent #3,213,559 for what would be marketed as the Matich Quick Loader. The Matich was sort of like a flexible version of the Spee-D-Loader. You would snap the cartridges in the loader's fingers while it was flat. Afterward, you could roll the strip into a circle, locking it in place via a two-fingered sling frog hooked into a crosspin molded into the opposite end of the strip. To reload, you would start the cartridges into the cylinder and then peel the strip off. As the strip unrolled, the flanges would pull apart allowing the cartridges to drop into the cylinder.



Ole N. Olson had a much simpler design that was awarded US Patent #3,225,482 in 1965. It was kind of like a Speed Strip, but the flexible rubber body retained each cartridge almost as like a conventional belt loop. To load the revolver, the rim of each cartridge had to be pressed down through the loop. The earliest ad I can find for this design dates to 1980. It was marketed by Triden Industries as the Rapid Revolver Loading Clip.


After an experiment in the mid-1960s to develop a collapsable speedloader (US Patent #3,252,238), William C. Bye and his partner Werner O. Brunhuber received US Patent #3,503,150 in 1970 for a more marketable design. Marketed as the Bye Speed Loading System, its selling point was that it had no springs, screw, cams, or ratchets. As you can see by the patent that's not entirely true as the handle is threaded into the center collet-style locking piece. When the handle was pushed forward, the locking piece would expand to hold the cartridge case rims. When the loader was pushed into the cylinder, the tapered top of the locking piece would be compressed and thus, release the cartridges. By 1978, it was 3 to 4 times as expensive as competing speedloaders, so this could not have helped sales.



I believe that US Patent #3,538,636 issued in 1970 is the patent for what became the Bianchi Speed Strip, but given the filing date of 1968, I'm not entirely certain. The now-abandoned trademark for Speed Strips claims that they were first marketed in 1965, but then again, others claim that they were not featured in Bianchi's catalogs until 1972.



Also in 1970, John D. Fordham and William L. Powers of Dade Screw Machine received US Patent #3,541,716. The new Dade Loader became extremely popular among PPC shooters. The case rims were retained by an elastic O-ring (garter spring) along the outer diameter of the loader. This made loading the Dade fairly easy as individual cartridges would snap into place as the rim passed the garter spring. When reloading, the loader would bottom out against the cylinder, and then you would press the large center button, forcing the case rims past the garter spring. The downside to the Dade was its fat diameter interfered with factory stocks and thumbpieces. Worse yet, it could easily lose the cartridges when dropped. The Dade Loaders were still in production in the 1980s and perhaps even later.


French inventor Jean Dupouy received US Patent #3,667,146 in 1972 for own concept of a rigid side-stripping speedloader. I believe this patent was the basis of a speedloader once sold by Manurhin. Dupouy's loader staggered the cartridges so they could be loaded three at a time, but as a result, it would not have been flat enough to fit legacy dump pouches.


The most commercially popular speedloader has probably been probably the HKS 'Six Second' speedloader. Robert D. Switzer received US Patent # 3,722,125 in 1973 for the initial design. These original models would later be dubbed the M-model after the introduction of the improved A and B models.



Not to be confused with the HKS Six Second, the Second Six loader was also patented in 1973 (US Patent #3,769,732). Designed by William T. Griffis, the Second Six consisted of two pieces of interlocking molded plastic. The inner portion retained the case rims through molded-in flanges; the outer portion was a ring that sat on top of the case heads when loaded. You would start the cartridges into the cylinder, and then force the outer ring towards the cylinder. This would force the case rims past the flanges. In other words, it was sort of a modern polymer re-interpretation of the Prideaux Device. The upside was that this loader was extremely narrow in diameter, and had a short overall length. Initially, the firm would only sell directly to agencies and individual LEOs. Agencies issuing the Second Six included the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. (While some people have praised the Second Six for its ease of use, I personally found that forcing the tiny outer ring down could be nearly impossible at times. I don't know if there was an aging plastic issue with my used sample, or some sort of dimensional mismatch with my Detective Special. However, I don't remember it working better on S&W K-Frames.) In 1981, Griffis would receive US Patent #4,272,903 for a new three-piece variant, but I don't think this was nearly as prolific as the original.



In 1974, Paul P. Kubik received US Patent #3,824,729. The Kubik Speed Reloader was an odd piece of equipment. The cartridges were held in place by spring tension in three staggered tiers. The cartridges could be inserted from one side of the loader only. You started the cartridges in the chambers and then pulled the loader out to the side.



David A. Johnson received US Patent #4,065,868 in 1978 for what was initially known as the JFS. While Johnson was reportedly making them in his garage even before the patent was granted, the design quickly gained a following on the West Coast amongst PPC shooters. In an interview published in 1980, Safariland's president Neale Perkins credited PPC revolversmith Bill Davis with tipping him off to the JFS loader. Safariland picked up the rights to the design, where it was ultimately named the Comp I. Perkins stated that they sold 50,000 of the Comp I J-K2 loaders within the first 9 months of its introduction in 1977.



At the same time that David Johnson was designing the Comp I, Austrian inventors Heinz Jelinek and Fritz Carmann were designing what would become known as the Jet-Loader. French and German patents were received in 1978, while US Patent #4,133,129 was awarded in 1979. The earliest mention I can find of the Jet-Loader being imported to the US was in 1981. Like other imported speedloaders, its availability was often spotty, yet it developed a cult following with serious PPC shooters in the US.



HKS introduced their improved A and B-models in 1978, well ahead of the 1980 and 1982 patent awards. The B-model was short-lived after its introduction. The A-models are manual-release only like the legacy M-models. However, the A-model covers the primers and rattled less than the legacy M-models. HKS retained the M-model has it found that some revolvers simply needed the cartridges to be held a little less rigidly for rapid indexing of the cartridges into the cylinder. The B-model basically added the automatic release of the Safariland Comp I while retaining the option of a manual twist release like the M and A models.



In 1982, Safariland introduced the improved Comp II speedloader. Alas, I can't seem to locate a patent for that one.



In 1986, JFS Inc. licensed the patent rights to the Jet-Loader. However, David Johnson further modified the design, resulting in the award of US Patent # 4,866,870 in 1989. Johnson noted that upon release of the spring-loaded locking mechanism, his legacy Comp I and Comp II would sometimes result in a slight twisting motion that impeded the clean release of the cartridges from the loader. Given the much larger and stronger spring of the Jet-Loader, the torque was even more severe. Manuals for the latter even recommended that the user not hold the revolver by the cylinder while the loader is inserted. Johnson's solution was to add a rotating sleeve to the improved design's handle, so that the loader's handle was free to twist during release. Safariland still markets this as the Comp III.



Earlier in 1989, Venezuelan inventor Angel G. Goyanes was awarded US Patent #4,862,622. Goyanes' design is probably the ultimate combination of the “Spee-D-Loader” and Matich pull-strip designs. The strip can be inserted flat in a dump pouch, yet upon withdrawal from the pouch, internal springs will force the strip to roll into a cylinder. Goyanes has never found a manufacturer for his design, and with the expiration of the patent, he will likely never profit from it. I'm only including this one as a novelty since Goyanes has a demonstration video online.



In 1997, Charles Norgaard was awarded US Patent #5,621,998 for what was later marketed as the Gunsite Training Center Loader. One wonders why they thought that this was a good idea given its extreme bulk.


In 1995, German inventor Gerhard Longwitz began filing patent applications for what became known as the S.L. Variant. Awarded US Patent #5,953,845 in 1999, the S.L. Variant holds the case rims by independent fingers that cam in and out of the center body. Each cartridge is backed by an individual spring. When the loader hits the extractor star, the fingers cam out of the way, and the springs propel the cartridges into the chambers. The best feature of this loader is the ease of inserting and locking individual rounds...no jiggling or twisting, just push each one into place until it clicks. For those who desire the longer handle of the Jet-Loader or the Comp III, a screw-on extension was also available. The downside is the cost and availability.



A more recent attempt to revive the Kubik design was the Maxfire, introduced around 2000. It is a far simpler implementation of the concept, with the benefit of a pull ring instead of the Kubik's tab.


Back in 2005, Dave Skrzela introduced his variation on the classic Dade Loader, the DS-10 Speed. It was originally intended for use with rimfire revolvers, as a handy way to top off the cylinder during matches. He was going to branch out into centerfire designs, but has since dropped out of sight.



The new Ripcord speedloader is yet another variation of the old Matich design. While CK Tactical's commercial introduction of the Ripcord is fairly recent, the patent was awarded back in 2008.



The year 2008 also saw the introduction of Tuff Products Quickstrips, a variation of the Bianchi Speed Strips. Unlike Bianchi, which limited itself to 6-shot .38 Spec/.357 Mag and .44 Spec/Mag, Tuff Products ultimately introduced a wide variety of models of varying capacities and calibers.


The 5-Star Firearms speedloaders were commercially introduced back around 2010. An aluminum-billet variation on the HKS, the loaders started off as a personal project by Clinton Hartford in his uncle's garage. The story goes that a fellow shooter saw Clinton using his loaders at the range and offered him $20 for one.



Daniel Higby introduced his Speed-Beez design in 2012, yet another variation on the Dade Loader concept. Much like the DS-10 Speed, it started off aimed primarily at rimfire revolver competition shooters, but its lineup has expanded dramatically since then.




Earlier this year, Pachmayr introduced its new line of aluminum competition speedloaders. While a variation on the classic HKS, the sides are angled off for additional clearance.




Don’t forget to shop Brownells using our affiliate link! Head to firearmsradio.tv and click the affiliate link in the upper right hand corner!

Handgun Radio 142 - History of the Double Action Revolver with Bill Bell

Hello and welcome to Handgun Radio! I’m your host Ryan Michad from the wild woods of Central Maine, and this is your home for all the news, information and discussion in the handgunning world.

This week, we’re joined by Bill “LaVista” Bell, to discuss early double action revolvers and how we got to the guns we know today!

Brought to you by the Firearms Radio Network

Please check out the Patriot Patch Company for their awesome patches and other high quality items! Visit www.patriotpatch.co for more information!


Head over to http://firearmsradio.tv/pledge/ and click on HGR.

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Week in Review:

Ryan: - Went up to the shop and tried to see if I could find a North American Arms .22 Mag. They are on backorder right now!

-Ordered a case of 1000 rounds Tula 9mm 115 grain from Lucky Gunner for $183 with shipping. Not a bad deal!

- Saw a beautiful Model 19-3 that was Mint condition in the shop. Really nice handgun. My 19 has holster wear, this one had the box and all papers and basically looked new from the factory.


  • This past week I’ve been reloading the .38 S&W cartridge.  I have some vintage Colt and S&W revolvers I’ve been wanting to shoot more, so I made some low-pressure handloads to use in them.  

  • I also received some 240 gr. SWC bullets to make handloads for my new (to me) S&W Model 1926 revolver in .44 Special (AKA) the .44 Hand Ejector, 3rd Model.  This is a post-war, transitional model and somewhat rare, so I want to shoot fairly moderate loads thru it - something about equal to factory ammo.

  • I’ve also been working on an article about revolver speedloaders for a new magazine from Athlon Media Group/Outdoors called THE COMPLETE BOOK OF REVOLVERS.                           


Didn’t manage to go shooting...unless you count my Bug-a-Salt, in which case there are a LOT less flies in the world.

Ordered a new P38 Magazine from Midway USA,  I went with the Pro Mag reproduction, and at least for my post-war commercial P38 with the Aluminum frame, the mag appears to fit fine, and it locks the slide back.   I’ll let you all know when I take it to the range.

Also when buying that magazine, I looked through Midway’s Clearance section and found a PM45 magazine for a VERY reasonable price, so that came too.

Jordan: Hey all. I figured I’d hop in. I just happened to be at Dad’s and figured I’d help out on the technical end! Hard to pass up getting to pal around with Ryan and Weerd!

  • I’ve been reading up on various calibers. Mostly 44 variants. I started on 44 special since I am interested in doing some testing with that in the future and then managed to find my way into 44-40 territory. I hate to admit it, but I never realized 44-40 wasn't straight walled. Wiki surfing is fun.

  • I picked up a new defensive 44spl load recently , that's what got me interested in doing some testing soon. You'd be surprised at the lack of good video coverage of this excellent caliber there is out there.

  • Ballistics gel is a racket, those prices wow. I need to learn to make it cheaper or I'll just shoot jugs of water! I could build a Fackler box like Dad used to use. He had this homemade Fackler box he tested with all the time when I was a kid so I know that is an option.

Drink Segment: So I went and did something I said I’d never do.

I made simple syrup for cocktails.     I originally said I wouldn’t do it because it’s just sugar water, and I’d rather use more complex syrups or liqueurs to give sweetness AND flavor.

Only there are times when there just isn’t anything else that will do.    Yes you can put a teaspoon of sugar over your mint in a mint julep,  but those sugar grains don’t fully dissolve, and they make a mess!

Also I was surprised to find the taste a little different than just sugar,  possibly because some of the sugar bonds mights be broken by heat.

You simply make it by putting 1 part sugar, in 1 part water.     I simply did a half-cup of each for my first batch.    Bring the water to a boil and stir,  then  remove the heat and let it cool.

The sugar will remain in solution even when cold,  and now will quickly dissolve in your cocktails.

Music Selection This Week:

1st Interlude: “Folsom Prison Blues” guitar solo I played from a recent gig.

2nd Interlude: “Feeling Alright” bass solo from a gig with my band the Jefftones

Main Topic: History of the Double Action Revolver with Bill Bell

Bill: I think for the edification of our listeners we should define the term “double-action”.  As it refers to handguns DA might be better called trigger-cocking; as a long pull of the trigger serves to both cock the hammer and then release the sear, allowing the hammer to fly forward striking the firing pin and exploding the cartridge.  “Double” referred to the mechanisms ability to be fired in both the single-action mode - the hammer being manually cocked and the trigger pulled or in the trigger-cocking mode.  Today we have come up with terminology that is not quite correct, that being double-action-only or DAO.  Here the handgun action has altered so that it can only be fired in the trigger-cocking mode.  This was primarily done for reasons of safety by law enforcement as the trigger pull on a handgun in single-action mode is much lighter, thus more prone to accidental discharge in a stressful situation.

What we think of as the double-action revolver was first invented in 1851 by Robert Adams in England and was a cap & ball or percussion revolver using a trigger-cocking mechanism which in the case of revolvers simultaneously cocks the hammer, revolves the cylinder, locks the firing chamber in line with the barrel and releases the hammer, firing the gun.  This went over rather well in Great Britain and was approved by the British Small Arms Committee.  In American the gathering gray clouds of civil war spurred firearms production and in 1856 Ebanezer Starr invented a DA mechanism for a revolver and in 1858 produced the Starr DA .36 caliber Navy revolver and a DA .44 caliber Army revolver.  Both were procured for use by Union troops in the Civil War.  Another early American DA revolver was the Cooper Pocket DA Revolver introduced in 1860.  It looked very similar to the Colt 1849 Pocket Model and was a .31 caliber 5-shooter with a DA mechanism.

Skipping into the realm of self-contained metallic cartridge revolvers, it appears that the first such revolver was produced by Remington in the late 1860’s and was a factory conversion of the Remington-Rider DA revolver to fire .38 RF cartridges.  While S&W held the rights to the Rollin White Patent for bored-thru cylinder revolvers, they stayed with the SA mechanism, while Colt introduced the Model 1877, which was a DA revolver that looked and functioned much like the earlier Peacemaker or SAA.  The Lightning model was made in .38 Long Colt, the Thunderer in .41 Long Colt and during the first year production a rarer version the Rainmaker was made in .32 Colt.  The revolver proved popular to everyone but gunsmiths, who disliked working on its delicate action.  The Model 1878 was a larger-framed revolver built to handle cartridges like the .45 Colt and .44-40; it was often referred to as the Frontier Model or Double Action Army and 9000 of them in .45 Colt were supplied to the military.  Both the Models 1877 and 1878 were hampered by the slow loading and unloading system copied from the Peacemaker.

By this time S&W was starting to wake up.  They had discussed a DA revolver with the Russian government, but the plans fell through.  Smith had designs worked out in 1876 and 1878, but it wasn’t until February 1880 that they introduced a small, hinged frame, DA revolver in .38 caliber, a cartridge we know as the .38 S&W.  Like Smith’s earlier hinged-frame SA revolvers, it had the advantage of fast reloading as the barrel and cylinder tipped downward on a hinge allowing all the empty brass to be ejected at once and all the cylinder chambers were exposed for cartridge insertion.  Following close on its heels was a .32 S&W version.  In 1881 a large-frame model in .44 Russian was introduced; it evolved into the Favorite Model in 1882 which was altered to be lighter and handier.  A Frontier model was also made that chambered .44-40 and .38-40 cartridges.  In 1886 S&W introduced the .32 and .38 Safety Hammerless models that featured a concealed hammer and a grip safety; they became known as “Lemon-Squeezers” and could be considered DAO by today’s definition.

While the hinged frame was fast, Colt was looking for a more robust design and came up with the first DA revolver that most of us would recognize in 1889.  It had a swing-out cylinder, released by a sliding latch, which allowed simultaneous ejection of empty brass, plus fast reloading and it had a solid frame for increased strength.  Its cylinder rotated clockwise and it was chambered in .38 and .41 Long Colt.  It was improved and evolved into the Model 1892 which was adopted for military use in .38 Long Colt, a cartridge which proved lacking as a “man-stopper.”

S&W wasn’t resting on its laurels and came out with their own solid-frame, swing-out cylinder revolvers.  Designed were perfected in the mid-1890’s for what we now call I-frame and K-frame revolvers in .32 and .38 caliber.  The first to hit the market in 1896 was the I-frame .32 Hand Ejector Model of 1896 in .32 S&W Long.  It was followed by the K-frame Model 1899 referred to as the Military & Police chambered for the new .38 Special cartridge.  None of the earlier versions had the locking lug beneath the barrel and locked only with a center-pin at the rear of the cylinder.  The cylinder on the S&W turned counter-clockwise.  The revolver most recognizable today as the Military & Police, later designated the Model 10, began as the .38 Hand Ejector Model 1905.  This is probably the most recognizable DA revolver in the world today and has outfitted military and police forces for over 100 years.

Given the  militaries dissatisfaction with the .38 caliber revolver in the early 1900’s and the re-issue of old SAA and Model 1878 revolvers in .45 Colt, a new revolver with a larger frame to handle the .45 Colt cartridge was designed.  Introduced in 1898, it was called the New Service and would eventually be chambered in everything from .38 Short Colt to .476 Eley.  As the Model 1909 it was adopted by the military for service in the Philippines battling fierce Moro tribesmen.  It also became the service revolver of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the New York State Police.  It later evolved into the Model 1917 revolver which became a substitute standard for the military in WWI chambered for the .45 ACP service cartridge.

Smith & Wesson began development of a large (N-frame) frame revolver in 1905 and it was introduced 3 years later as the .44 Military Model of 1908; chambered for the new .44 Special cartridge.  It had locking points a the rear of the cylinder, at the front on the ejector rod shroud and an the juncture between the rear of the ejector rod shroud and the frame, which gave it the nickname the “Triple-Lock.”  The 3rd locking point on the ejector rod shroud was an added expense as was the shroud itself, so it was eliminated in the 2nd Model.  This revolver chambered for the .455 Webley cartridge was sold to the British during WWI before America became involved.

When the U.S. entered the war in 1917 it became readily apparent that there were not enough 1911 pistols to arm our servicemen, so Colt and S&W modified their large-frame revolvers to chamber the .45 ACP cartridge; both were referred to as the Model 1917.  As the .45 ACP is a rimless cartridge; half-moon clips were invented so the revolvers ejector star could push the empty brass out of the chambers.  This worked out so well that that Model 1917 revolvers were still in use during WWII, Korea and even Viet Nam.  Today, a number of revolvers use what we call full-moon clips that carry a full load of cartridges and these guns are popular for speed-shooting events.

In 1926 S&W received a big order for .44 Hand Ejector revolvers that had the shroud like the Triple-Lock, but only the two locking mechanisms; this became the 3rd Model or the .44 Military Model of 1926.  Gun writers of the period began experimenting with high velocity handloads in revolvers like the Model 1926 and the N-frame .38-44 Heavy Duty; the end result was the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum cartridges.  The medium-framed or E-frame Colt .38 revolver was chambered for the .38 Special and became the Army Special and later the Official Police.  This frame was sturdy enough for the .357 Magnum and became the adjustable-sighted Trooper and then the sleek Colt Python.  A specially heat-treat S&W K-frame was chambered for the .357 Magnum and became the Combat Magnum or Model 19.

Today’s DA revolvers all have this lineage.  Early 20th Century D-frame Colts became the .38 Police Positive and later the Detective Special.  I-frame Smiths were the basis of the .38 Regulation Police and Terrier; the I-frame morphed into the J-frame and became the Chief’s Special.  As police use of the .357 Magnum grew S&W introduced the more rugged L-frame in the early 1980’s and I carried a Model 686 as my last LE service revolver.  The N-frame became the platform for the Model 29 in .44 Magnum and the Model 57 in .41 Magnum.

Colt dropped the New Service in 1942 and did not have a large frame DA revolver until 1990 when they introduced the MM-frame Anaconda in .44 Magnum and .45 Colt.  The old E-frame revolvers actions were getting too expensive to produce so Colt developed a new DA mechanism that required less hand-fitting and more coiled springs and produced the Metropolitan Police and Trooper Mk III revolvers.  The last of the Colt DA .38/.357 revolvers was the Mk V Lawman, Peacekeeper, Trooper, and King Cobra - the last of these revolvers left the factory in 1998 and the Anaconda was discontinued in 2003.  Smith & Wesson has also dropped a number of their DA revolvers over the years; especially those in obsolete calibers like .32 Long and .38 S&W.  Some have come back as Heritage Models and special editions for large distributors.

Ruger began producing a medium-frame DA revolver in .38/.357 during 1972 called the Security Six.  It evolved into the GP-100, which is still with us today.  In the early 80’s came the SP-101 small-framed .38 Special and today we have a polymer hybrid-framed LCR.  They also produce the large-frame Redhawk in .44 Magnum, which just recently became available in .41 Magnum and .45 Colt/.45 ACP.  Dan Wesson, founded in 1968 produced a medium-frame .38/.357 revolver with a unique interchangeable barrel, the Model 15-2.  The torque on the barrel produced by the barrel nut and the muzzle of the barrel shroud caused this to be a very accurate revolver.  A large-frame version called the SuperMax was the darling of hunters and metallic silhouette competition shooters.  Today only the Model 715, a new rendition of the Model 15-2 is available.

We could go on and on, but I think this hits the high-points of DA revolvers in the U.S.                          


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