Revolver manufacture history?


January 12, 2011, 09:57 AM
I was wondering if anybody had a link to some history on early revolver
manufacture perhaps with pics of the tools that were used back in the 1800s
in a gunsmithy.

I have always been amazed at how they could have built such a tool back
then before the advent of machine tools and imagine some gunsmith labouring over a single revolver for a month.

If anybody has any imformation,links or vids it would be apreciated

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January 12, 2011, 12:36 PM
I don't have any links but there were machines and such being used at the time both by factories and individual gunsmiths. Lathes and such were powered by leather belts which n turn were powered by water or steam or even horsepower. Leather belts were also used to provide power to trip hammers used in forging.

And the time it took for a smith to turn out a working product would surprise you. Less than a week, if he wanted to stay in business. This is for a utility firearm, not an engraved or target model.

January 12, 2011, 02:25 PM
There's mention of some of the machines in the following thread:

The next thread included details about roll engraving:

Jim Watson
January 12, 2011, 02:25 PM
Charles Dickens toured Colt's London plant in 1854 and wrote an article about the machines and the workers. I cannot find the whole thing on the net but it is in the old Haven and Belden book.

January 12, 2011, 03:18 PM
Thanks all for reply,s im still reading replys

straw hat I probably did not use the correct terminology I knew they had
laths,grinders,drills etc I have owned a couple of antiques myself what I meant by machine tools was more modern x,y,z axis controlled cutting tools.
(which to my knowledge are mostly computer controlled now)

I own a pietta 1858 and had it down cleaning it the other day and marvelled
at how it might have been constructed originally during the civil war.
I have done a lot of blacksmithing so have a bit of an idea and im sure most
of this pietta was made with machine tools.

for example i look at the frame and see that some work could be performed with heat and hammer and other with grinding but it still looks like a tremendous undertaking and 1 slight mistake would ruin it all

January 12, 2011, 03:28 PM
These are also from Haven & Belden, two of a series of illustrations from "A Day at the Armory of Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Hartford, Connecticut" published in the United States Magazine, March, 1857.

January 12, 2011, 03:34 PM
cool thanks berkley thats the kind of thing i was looking for

January 12, 2011, 03:53 PM
lots of good pics here,1

January 12, 2011, 03:59 PM
The initial contract called for 1,000 of the revolvers and accouterments. Colt commissioned Eli Whitney Junior to fill the contract and produced an extra 100 revolvers for private sales and promotional gifts.[3]

...What he had accomplished was the design of new machine tools which produced identical interchangeable parts.

In January 1801 he went to Washington where he made an unforgettable demonstration before government officials. He spread out on a table many parts of gunlocks, then randomly picked up pieces to assemble a lock. He then disassembled it and invited his astonished observers to emulate him. In 1812 he was awarded a contract to manufacture 15,000 muskets, to be finished before the end of 1820. In 1818 he built his first milling machine, or mechanized cutter, which precisely shaped metal parts. His efficient methods, especially the use of interchangeable parts, revolutionized the small-arms industry, and gradually these production methods were applied to most types of manufacturing. Whitney's genius thus changed the course of a struggling nation on the eve of the industrial revolution.

Below is some info. about Whitney's early production methods gleaned from previous threads: (below)

..." Mr. Whitney is now employed in manufacturing muskets for the United States. In this business he has probably exceeded the efforts not only of his countrymen, but of the whole civilized world, by a system of machinery of his own invention, in which expedition and accuracy are united to a degree probably without example. I should not have thought it necessary to speak of him in so strong terms, had I not believed that his own modesty would keep him from discovering his real character."
o Niles' Weekly Register....

...When Mr. Whitney's mode of conducting the business was brought into successful operation, and the utility of his machinery was fully demonstrated, the clouds of prejudice which lowered over his first efforts were soon dissipated, and he had the satisfaction of seeing not only his system, but most of his machinery, introduced into every other considerable establishment for the manufacture of arms, both public and private, in the United States.

The labors of Mr. Whitney in the manufacture of arms have been often and fully admitted by the officers of the government, to have been of the greatest value to the public interest. A former Secretary of War admitted, in a conversation with Mr. Whitney, that the government were saving twenty five thousand dollars per annum at the two public armories alone, by his improvements. This admission, though it is believed to be far below the truth, is sufficient to show that the subject of this memoir deserved well of his country in this department of her service.

It should be remarked that the utility of Mr. Whitney's labors during the period of his life which we have now been contemplating, was not limited to the particular business in which he was engaged. Many of the inventions which he made to facilitate the manufacture of muskets, were applicable to most other manufactures of iron and steel. To many of these they were soon extended, and became the nucleus around which other inventions clustered ; and at the present time some of them may be recognized in almost every considerable workshop of that description in the United States....

January 12, 2011, 04:03 PM
A few more:

January 12, 2011, 04:12 PM
i always wondered about barrel construction

January 12, 2011, 04:17 PM
thanks articap those links will give me another research lead

January 13, 2011, 06:40 AM
Here's the link to a photo of an actual Colt barrel rifling machine:


Machinery - Barrel rifling machine

A Colt employee demonstrates how to work the barrel rifling machine, which is large with numerous wheels, pipes, pedals with spheres at the top. Invented by Elisha King Root, President of Colt's 1862-1865. Inscription on back: "rifling machine"

Connecticut State Library, State Archives, PG 460, Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Box 3, Folder 3, Item 1


Colt's armory complex - Upright engine in east armory

Large, upright engines, stand floor to ceiling, connected by a shaft in the Colt's East armory. Photograph of upright engine installed in Colt's East Armory when rebuilt in 1864-65. Designed by Charles Richards, Mechanical Engineer for Colt Company and afterwards Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Yale University."

Connecticut State Library, State Archives, PG 460, Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Box 3, Folder 2, Item 5

Here's some photos of other Colt machines that are not dated, but possibly from the same era.








8. This next photo could be from a later date:

Colt's armory complex - East armory workers

A group photo of Colt assembly line workers in the Colt's East Armory. Machinery can be seen throughout the shop.

Connecticut State Library, State Archives, PG 460, Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Box 3, Folder 2, Item 3

Here's a page about the history of the milling machine from 1810 on:

January 13, 2011, 11:33 AM
To an old engineer this stuff is fascinating, even riveting, to use a very bad pun. Thank you, Arcticap.

January 13, 2011, 11:49 AM
Thanks mykeal. If anyone would like to see a variety of older machinery, check out this extensive Antique Machinery and History thread that has lots of interesting photos, including some of steam engines that must be similar to those used to power the Colt plant. Some of the smaller photos in the thread can be clicked on to enlarge them.

Warning: It's 31 pages long!

January 13, 2011, 01:01 PM
yes thanks arcticap

January 13, 2011, 01:10 PM
This is a fascinating topic. 19th century firearms in particular are THE BEST window into understanding how modern industry developed. In 1800 there was no modern industry. The tiny handful of factories relied on water power running machines made mostly of leather and wood. Every firearm--indeed every single screw and nail--was hand made, just as it had been for the prior 300 years. By 1860, within a SINGLE LIFETIME, coal had replaced water and truly interchangeable parts had been developed. The creation of John Hall's rifle heralded the shift. I think the Hall Rifle may be the single most significant piece of industrial technology in the history of the world. The technology and methods used to make it make VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING we use today possible. His little operation, funded by government contracts and beset with troubles and delays, was the birthplace of a long list of fundamental industrial methods. All to make every screw like every other screw.

January 13, 2011, 10:38 PM
It is what Henry ford based his assembly line on,each worker completed a different task,on the way to final fit and finish,good steele was the key,here in detroit,ive seen many a old jiggs and metal lathes go to the scrap yard:barf:

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