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 email@example.com or to the facebook page! We’ve gotten a lot of great entries so far!
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.
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.
Subject: Jo.Lo.Ar. pistol
Message: Any help in field stripping this gun?
Thanks in advance,
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.
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