A Pistol is a small rifle, usually aimed and fired with one hand. A revolver is a pistol having a revolving cylinder or revolving barrels. The term pistol, is, however, applied indiscriminately by many to both single shot pistols and revolvers. The earliest single-shot pistols were of foreign manufacture, and of the dueling pattern. These, frequently of smooth bore, were followed by military rifled pistols, made by machinery. These, in turn, with the advent of the metallic cartridge, were followed by a variety of cheap single-shot, breech-loading pistols of small caliber. The first American revolvers were crude; but meritorious because of the reserve fire and ability to fire rapidly. The changes from percussion to rim-fire cartridges, and from rim-fire to central-fire cartridges retarded improvements in the aim to increase accuracy.
The revolver to-day holds its popularity, and is owned and shot by most pistol experts; yet the single-shot pistol is generally used in target and match shooting. They are made in calibers from .22 to .50, most of them being made in the .22 caliber, the Stevens, Wurfflein and Smith & Wesson being chambered and rifled for the long-rifle cartridge in the .22 caliber, which is extremely accurate; .32, .38 and .44 calibers are also very popular. With few exceptions, modern American pistols and revolvers take the metallic cartridges, which are made in enormous quantities and variety of styles by our standard cartridge companies. The invention of the revolver is very far from new, specimens, with even the present system of rotation, being still in existence, which were manufactured at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Probably the first revolver to suggest itself was one in which several barrels were mounted on an axis, and made to revolve by the action of the trigger, so that their powder pans came successively under the action of the lock.
This principle was never entirely abandoned, and in the reign of George IV. was produced a pistol called the "Mariette," which had from four to twenty-four small barrels, bored in a solid mass of metal, made to revolve as the trigger was drawn back. At close quarters, such a pistol would doubtless have been useful; but its great weight and cumbrous mechanism rendered aim extremely unsteady. Contemporaneously from the first with the revolving barrels went forth the formation of a revolving chamber or breech, pierced with several cylindrical apertures to receive the charges. Being made to revolve, each motion brought a chamber into line with the one barrel, common to all, whereupon the weapon was ready for use. Numerous patents for this principle have been taken out, including one by the celebrated Marquis of Worcester in 1661. Various improvements were made, especially in the mode of causing revolution, an American, by the name of Elisha H. Collier, patenting such a weapon in the United States and England about 1818. In 1835 Colonel Samuel Colt brought to a conclusion experiments of some years' standing, and patented his world-renowned Colt's revolver, which was a great advance on all previous attempts, and is substantially still in use.
Farrow, Edward S. American Small Arms; a Veritable Encyclopedia of Knowledge for Sportsmen and Military Men. New York: Bradford, 1904. Print.
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