A revolver is a repeating firearm that has a revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. The revolver allows the user to fire multiple rounds without reloading. Each time the user cocks the hammer, the cylinder revolves to align the next chamber and round with the hammer and barrel, which gives this type of firearm its name. In a single-action revolver, the user pulls the hammer back with his free hand or thumb; the trigger pull only releases the hammer. In a double-action revolver, pulling the trigger moves the hammer back, then releases it.
The first guns with multichambered cylinders that revolved to feed one barrel were made in the late 1500s in Europe. They were expensive and rare curiosities. Not until the 1800s would revolvers become practical weapons for non-rich owners. One of the first was a flintlock revolver made by Elisha Collier in 1814. The first percussion cap revolver was invented by the Italian Francesco Antonio Broccu 1833. He received a prize of 300 francs for his invention, although he didn't patent it, his revolver was shown to the King Charles Albert of Sardinia. However, in 1835 a similar gun was patented by Samuel Colt.
In 1836, he founded his first corporation for its manufacture, the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company of Paterson, New Jersey, Colt's Patent. This corporation suffered quality problems in production. Making firearms with interchangeable parts was still rather new (it had reached commercial viability only about a decade before), and it was not yet easy to replicate across different factories. Interchangeability was not complete in the Paterson works, and traditional gunsmithing techniques did not fill the gap entirely there. The Colt Paterson revolver found patchy success and failure; some worked well, while others had problems. The United States Marine Corps and United States Army reported quality problems with these earliest Colt revolvers.
Colt made another attempt at revolver production in 1846 and submitted a prototype to the US government. During the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), this prototype was seen by Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker who made some suggestions to Colt about making it in a larger caliber. Having no factory or machinery to produce the pistols, Samuel Colt collaborated with the Whitney armory of Whitneyville, Connecticut. Colt used a combination of renting the Whitney firm's facilities and subcontracting parts to the firm to continue his pursuit of revolver manufacture.
Colt's new revolvers found favor with Texan volunteers (the progenitors of later Texas Rangers cavalry groups), and they placed an order for 1,000 revolvers that became known as the Colt Walker, ensuring Colt's continuance in manufacturing revolvers. In 1848, Colt was able to start again with a new corporation of his own. He founded the Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut.
The most famous Colt products include the Colt Walker, Single Action Army or Peacemaker, and the Colt Python. John Browning worked for Colt for a time, and came up with a design for a semiautomatic pistol, which debuted as the Colt M1900 pistol and eventually evolved into the Colt M1911 pistol. Though they did not develop it, for a long time Colt was primarily responsible for all AR-15 and M16 rifle production, as well as many derivatives of those firearms. The most successful and famous of these are numerous M16 carbines, including the Colt Commando family, and the M4 carbine.
In 2002, Colt Defense was split off from Colt's Manufacturing Company. Colt Manufacturing Company now serves the civilian market, while Colt Defense serves the law enforcement, military, and private security markets worldwide.