No discussion of historic weapons and their significance to the development of modern guns can go for long without mention of the Colt Navy Model 1861 as what was arguably the first effective and reliable repeater.
There were previous examples of repeater weapons, both pistols and rifles, which simply did not meet the needs of an experienced shooter. Multiple barrels were heavy and difficult to control, and different styles of revolving chambers didn’t always utilize consistent manufacturing specifications to fire properly each time. The Colt Navy M1861 solved both of these problems, and broke ground for the standards required of a repeating firearm.
The Colt Navy in its original form was a .36 caliber weapon, which allowed for a lighter recoil than other weapons of the time. This was significant as it made the gun easier to shoot and maintain aim when taking multiple shots, and put less stress on the weapon itself as the chamber rotated to place the next shot. The .36 caliber proved effective because of better manufacturing processes, and better available grades of gunpowder than previously available. Although the Colt was not as heavy or as powerful as the famed Kentucky Long Rifle which was still popular at the time, the .36 bore proved itself to be just as efficient for the jobs required of a firearm.
The Colt Navy has more historic significance than some people may realize. It wasn’t only a step in technology toward creating better weapons, but also provided an advancement in manufacturing techniques which extended to other industries. A comparable competitor to the Colt was the English-made Adams self-cocking revolver, however such a weapon was unable to become extremely popular on the same level as the Colt because each one was handmade, whereas the Colt utilized a mass production facility to provide a weapon more accessible to the public and military personnel. Although Henry Ford was later credited with “inventing” the assembly line, the idea didn’t come out of thin air, but was rather an improvement on techniques already in use by companies such as Colt.
Use and Efficiency in Context of the Time
Although the Colt Navy may not be appropriate outside of historic demonstrations for use today because of much more efficient weaponry which has since been developed, it could theoretically serve the uses expected of a gun. By today’s standards, the biggest issue to be found is the way the Colt used either a paper cartridge containing the powder and either a ball or conical lead bullet, or alternatively, could be loaded separately with a measured amount of powder followed by packing a ball into place. The problem with such a system is that any amount of moisture or humidity can foul the powder and prevent the gun from firing. At the time, local law enforcement and famous western gunslingers were known to clean and reload the pistol every morning before leaving the bedroom to assure the weapon would perform if needed later in the day.
~ Firearm Daily