We take a walk through history and highlight some of the greatest revolvers, pistols, and sidearms of all time
Colt, Glock, S&W, Browning… There is no shortage of iconic names associated with handguns. From classic cavalry sidearms of the 1800s to today’s remarkably accurate semi-automatic pistols, handguns have been a constant source for innovation and ingenuity. And that’s what inspired us to go back in time and highlight 25 of the most ground-breaking handguns, pistols, and revolvers in history — starting all the way back in 1850 when Colt released a game-changer that would go on to catch the eyes of soldiers and gunslingers alike. Many of the guns in this list are no longer available, but the impact and influence they had on handgun design will live on forever. Now, onto the list.
Colt 1851 Navy Revolver (1850)
In production from 1850 until 1873, the Colt Navy Revolver changed warfare and the world. Much lighter than the Colt Dragoon of 1847 and originally designated the “Ranger,” the Colt Navy was adored by cavalry soldiers, partisan ruffians, and gunslingers like Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickock. The revolver remained popular long after the introduction of the modern self-contained cartridge. The Colt Navy is a legendary sidearm and could be considered the first true fighting handgun.
Colt Single Action Army (1873)
Likely the most iconic handgun in existence, the Colt Single Action Army gained fame in the holsters of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and won the West in the hands of men like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. General George Patton also carried an 1873 Colt Single Action Army, which should be all the endorsement a pistol needs to achieve fabled status. Known as the Peacemaker, the gun would’ve cost you about $17 in the 1870s. Today, you’ll pay 100 times that for a current production 1873 and as much as 500 times the original price for a first-generation specimen in good condition.
Smith & Wesson Model 10 (1899)
Also known as the Military & Police or Victory Model, this fixed-sight, double-action revolver has been offered with barrel lengths ranging from 2 to 6 inches, and it is estimated that more than six million Model 10s have been manufactured. The revolver saw service in both World Wars and was chambered in .38 Long Colt, .38 S&W, and .38 Special. Thousands of policemen have walked their beats with a Model 10 at their sides. In 1974, S&W introduced a heavy-barrel version chambered for the .357 Magnum known as the Model 13.
The Pistole Parabellum — also known as the Luger — was offered in a variety of configurations from 1898 until 1948. It is the pistol that made the 9mm Parabellum/Luger/9x19mm cartridge famous, and now the most popular pistol cartridge in the world. The Luger was used by the German Army in World War I and II and has, in a way, become a symbol of Nazi Germany. Because of this, it was a longtime favorite handgun for Hollywood villains. The Luger and its unique operating system essentially died at the end of WWII, but by then, it had already made history.
Created by John Browning — arguably the greatest firearm designer of all time — this pistol served the American military from 1911 until 1990 and is still in the holsters of some soldiers today. The 1911 helped win two World Wars and may be the most copied handgun ever. Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper referred to it as the “Yankee Fist,” and today, the 1911 is more popular than ever before. It dominates the custom handgun market and is offered in multiple configurations by many manufacturers.
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