The very first firearm ever manufactured by Samuel Colt was a rifle!
Although Colt is known the world over for its legendary handguns, it has an equally impressive history in long arms dating back to the 1830s, the Mexican-American War in the late 1840s and the Civil War. The repeating or revolving-cylinder rifle had its origins in Paterson, New Jersey, around 1835.
In the 1830s, the U.S. military was armed with single-shot flintlock and percussion-lock pistols, smoothbore and rifled muskets, and percussion-lock, double-barrel shotguns. Samuel Colt proposed to replace them all with multi-shot, revolving-cylinder weapons—from belt pistols to shotguns—all based on his original 1835 and 1836 patents for the revolving-cylinder pistol. While Colt’s investors had been anticipating a small pocket-model revolver to be introduced, young Sam dismayed his New York backers with a massive revolving rifle. The first gun put into production at Paterson was the No. 1 Ring Lever rifle. Both the No.1 and improved No. 2 models are fascinating designs.
The No. 1 Ring Lever was available in a wide variety of chamberings, including .34, .36, .38, .40 and .44 calibers, and with eight- or 10-shot cylinders. The No. 1 was generally offered with one barrel length, 32 inches, though shorter lengths were made, and some were later restocked as horse pistols carried in pommel holsters, with their barrels shortened to 10.44 inches. Within the first model series, it is estimated that no more than 200 were manufactured. Replaced by the No. 2 model, the Paterson was now available in eight- and 10-shot, .44-caliber versions and two standard barrel lengths, 28 and 32 inches. More popular than its predecessor, a total of approximately 500 were built between 1838 and 1841.
The most important feature of the No. 2 was a loading lever attached to the right side of the barrel lug to facilitate the rapid loading of each cylinder chamber without the need of a separate rammer, as was traditionally used on single-shot muskets. The No. 1 models could also be refitted with a lever but did not come equipped with them. Loading the No. 1 revolving rifles was generally accomplished by removing the barrel, placing a loading tool in the cylinder arbor notch and then loading each chamber. The attached loading lever on the No. 2 made this a much faster process and earned Colt some modicum of praise from the military, as the barrel no longer had to be removed to load the cylinder.
During their production runs, numerous changes were made to the No. 1 and No. 2 models regarding their cylinder designs, particularly the removal of the topstrap from the No. 2, creating the “open top” design that would become standard Colt fare until 1873.
As with his Paterson pocket and belt pistols, which were also introduced in 1836, Colt’s greatest champion was the Republic of Texas. In 1839, the Texas Army placed two orders for the No.2 Paterson revolving rifles, two lots of 50 each, in August and October. Interestingly, Colt’s later Model 1839 revolving carbine took a different design approach than the No. 1 or No. 2 models, rendering them immediately obsolete.