Moore’s Patent Revolver at RIA (Video)

Manufactured in Brooklyn from 1861 until 1863, Moore’s revolver was a 7-shot single-action piece firing .32 rimfire cartridges. What makes it unique is its swing-out cylinder design – the first commercial revolver in the US to use this mechanism. A latch on the back of the frame released the entire barrel and cylinder assembly, allowing it to tip over to the right, exposing the chambers for loading and unloading (similar to the much more recent Savage 101 children’s gun, actually). The ejector rod is stored under the barrel, but must be removed and used by hand when needed. Moore’s revolvers were popular with New Yorkers heading off to the Civil War and almost 8000 were made, but production was halted when Rollin White successfully sued for patent infringement (over his patent on the bored-though cylinder).


  1. The strange part about the entire Rollin White story was that his patent was granted at all. His 1855 application was three years after the 1852 U.S. reciprocity patent of the French Lefaucheux pinfire, which specifically mentions a bored-through cylinder as a necessity of the patent, since a pinfire obviously can’t be loaded from the front any more that a rimfire generally can.

    The fact that the patent was granted rather quickly and that S&W even more quickly had White on the hustings defending it out of his own pocket has long made me wonder if there wasn’t some collusion- and greasing of palms- involved between S&W and the Patent Office.

    S&W filed for an extension in 1867, was granted it, and filed for another in 1869. That time, the Supreme Court turned it down, and the Patent Office was ordered to discontinue the patent protection by President Grant. Who probably wondered how S&W had pulled this one off to begin with.

    Incidentally, White’s original idea was for a bored-through cylinder with a sort of automatic magazine feed behind the cylinder, to essentially keep reloading the revolver with paper or “skin” cartridges, rather like the hopper feed on the later Gatling and Ager mechanical machine guns. Colt rejected it not because Sam Colt didn’t see the usefulness of the cylinder idea, but because White, one of his designers at the time, demanded a royalty setup similar to that Colt had with Elisha K. Root over the solid-frame sidehammer Root revolvers.

    Sam simply didn’t think White’s “magazine feeder”, that he insisted be on the design, would work, and passed on it. Colt was very surprised at White’s patent being approved, because of the pre-existing LeFaucheux patent, which was the reason Colt never tried for such a patent.

    White was noted for plagiarizing foreign patents and filing them as his own, then suing the original patentees claiming they were stealing his patents. This may have been another reason Colt “let him go”- nobody needs a loose cannon like that on the payroll. Note that S&W never actually had him on their payroll. Daniel Baird Wesson may have been a bit overly “flexible” about patent law, but he was no fool.

    BTW, Wesson didn’t technically invent the rimfire. The original “BB cap” was a French invention, used in single-shot “parlor pistols”, but it was Benjamin Tyler Henry who came up with the idea of a rim and a powder charge; the original “bulleted breech cap” was propelled by its priming charge alone.

    Moore kept trying even after his loss to White. In 1865 he and another designer, Williams, came up with a metallic-cartridge revolver commonly called the “teat-fire” today. It used a cartridge that loaded from the front of the cylinder and had a nubbin-like primer that protruded through a small hole in the solid back end of each chamber, to be hit by the hammer rather like the percussion cap on a conventional cap-and-ball revolver. The overall system was very like F. Alexander Thuer’s 1868-69 conversion for Colt, except a lot less complicated.

    White tried to sue him- again. That time, he lost.

    About the same time (1866) William Mason, who later worked at Colt, patented a swing-out cylinder system very like that we know today, with the cylinder (with or without barrel) swinging fully out to the side, and a built-in ejector, either a one-at-a-time like the Nagant or a full “star” ejector.

    He was working for Remington at the time, and the swing-out cylinder appeared occasionally on Remington “cartridge conversion” revolvers in .32, .38, and .44 rimfire or centerfire well into the 1880s.

    The fact that Remington owned the patent (Mason had assigned them the rights) probably explains why Colt didn’t introduce a swing-cylinder revolver until the mid-1880s, and why S&W went with the top-break until the late 1890s.

    In short, if you asked Remington, you could have gotten pretty much the equivalent of a S&W Model 10 in .38 Colt Centerfire in the mid-1870s. And they only charged $5 more for the option over the usual $5 cost of converting a New Model police or whatever to breech-loading. Double-action was also available at no extra charge.

    Imagine a gunfight in which the bad man draws a single-action “thumb buster” and the good guy outs with a pair of “snub-nosed” .38 double-actions. Actually, it probably happened at least a few times, and not just with S&W Frontier or Hopkins & Allen DAs.



  2. The corporate politics of the day were amusing, to say the least. I know this sounds really dumb, but during this period of time in history, gun making was one of the ways to get to the top of the social-economic ladder. What complicated the process apart from making a sound design was finding a good market for one’s work pieces.

    In 19th century America, you would be discouraged from offering any “new fangled fickle pampered poodle guns” to the Army because the Ordinance Board got in the way citing the Colt Revolving Rifle disaster (and said Ordinance Board often made the most bone-headed decisions including the promotion of the “rod bayonet” for the 1903 Springfield–Theodore Roosevelt bent a rod bayonet in half with his bare hands). In the American civilian market, one’s fortunes depended on a weapon’s performance in either a defensive application or in a hunting application. In both military and civilian markets, one’s weapons had to be chambered for something already available (black powder rimfire for civilians, black powder centerfire for military) in large quantities. New calibers were seldom welcome because obtaining “proprietary maker’s ammo” was more expensive than going to the local gun store to get some boxes of regular .38 Colt and because the Army did not want to pay ludicrous sums just for ammunition alone.

    In Europe, new imperialism meant that tons of arms makers were in competition, constantly trying to find ways to get original designs to perfection so that the various armies would be willing to pay for them. Unlike America, who was far from most world conflicts at the time, the Europeans (and the Ottoman Empire, in case you were going to blast me for forgetting) were constantly at each other’s throats. “Good old muzzle loaders” were phased out after the Seven Weeks’ War after the upstart Prussians kicked the Habsburg Empire right in the unmentionables. Not waiting for another war to see what was better, Britain and France immediately scrambled to get good breech-loaders into service. Revolvers had to be changed too–cap-lock revolvers were just too slow for officers to stay near the front lest the lines be breached and enemies aim for the officers’ faces. Pinfire revolvers had a relatively short production period, being somewhat slower than other cartridge revolvers…

    Eventually, all this rummaging round the private sector made most countries’ armies and civilians settle for center-fire revolvers as side-arms, the semiautomatic handgun not being perfected for practical usage (let alone affordable). The American forces were still behind on long arms, however. Most American soldiers didn’t believe that the European bolt-action designs were safe or practical, preferring lever-action rifles which the higher-ups forbade them to have due to “lack of military grade stopping power in design” and “inability to handle military grade 45-70.” By the time the Spanish American War was on, the principle American machine gun was the Gatling on a naval mount or an artillery carriage (no way to camouflage that, right?).

    And while the show “History’s Deadliest Warriors” claims that the Gatling is more reliable than the World War One era Vickers machine gun, I think that it should be the other way around–if the Gatling jams due to ruptured cartridge casings, the entire gun must be disassembled by an armorer back at base. If the Vickers jams, soldiers can clear the jam from behind good cover.

    Can anyone correct this interpretation?

    • Excellent analysis of the corporate/business situation, Andrew. You might want to look up The Handgun by Geoffrey Boothroyd, who goes into detail on its ramifications in Britain and on the Continent in Chapter Three.

      As to the difference between Gatling and Vickers jams, it’s pretty much a dead heat, given a trained crew. Any model of Vickers can be opened up to access the feedway to clear a jam in about ten seconds flat. And the fastest way to deal with a case head separation jam is to just change the barrel and let the company armorer deal with the stuck case later.

      As for the Gatling, most metallic cartridge Gatlings after the 1865 model could be kept firing after such a barrel stoppage by simply opening the top cover, locating the jammed barrel, and removing the bolt that went with it.

      When the gun was put back in action, as the barrel cluster rotated, the feed system would simply “skip” that barrel because there would be no bolt to pick up a round and feed it forward.

      The whole process again takes about ten seconds; nine to figure out which barrel is buggered up, one to yank the bolt.

      It comes down to which gun team has the fastest “magic fingers”.




  3. IIRC the Gatling was also much more susceptible to operator error. A panicky gunner trying too increase his ROF could cause the gun to lock up. While the “Deadliest Warriors” show was somewhat entertaining, I would take their conclusions with a grain, hell, a box of salt. Given the choice, I would take the Vickers. As for the Rollin White situation, I always felt that his rather zealous pursuit of litigation, especially during the Civil War, was borderline treasonous, as he did his best to restrict handgun development and production limited to cap-and-ball revolvers while preventing the widespread development and issue of viable cartridge-loading handguns to complement the growing development and distribution of long arms such as the Spencer and Henry. Even though the S&W Model 2 was a popular sidearm in the Civil War, the .32 rimfire cartridge made it a joke as a combat weapon, especially for cavalrymen who could have used a viable cartridge revolver in .44 or .45 caliber. The technology and manufacturing capability existed, but it seems that White’s obsessive and evidently fraudulent litigation is arguably one of the biggest impediments to the Army’s ability to acquire a large-bore cartridge revolver during the war. A Starr DA revolver in .44 rimfire would have been a great cavalry arm, had it been developed. If Lincoln (who seemed to like advanced firearms and encouraged their issue) was able to basically suspend the Constitution, he could easily have silenced White and thrown out the court rulings to allow other manufacturers the ability to produce rimfire and centerfire revolvers without the fear of legal repercussions. This lends further credence to eon’s assertions of collusion between Wesson and the “mossbacks” in Ordnance who seemed hell-bent on preventing any innovation in American Military arms at the time. The procurement process in the Civil War is rife with examples of blatant corruption, and I have no doubt that there was a lot of money passed “under the table” between Wesson and the Government.

    • Good points, Doc, and thanks for the kudos.

      I think a lot of Wesson’s shenanigans were motivated purely by trying to corner the civilian market. Although it must be said that the .32 rimfire No. 2 that S&W introduced in 1860-61 was at least as serious a fighting handgun as the Colt or Remington .36 “Navy” revolvers. All three had about the same muzzle energy and the S&W was less of a PITA to reload under fire. .36- 80 gr RB, 14 gr BP, 625 FPS/70 FPE, .32 RF- 90 gr RNL, 12-15 gr BP, 600 FPS/72 FPE. The target wasn’t likely to notice the difference.

      There are a lot of myths about handgun use during the Civil War. A recurring one is the commonality of the Sharps single-shot pistol. Several historians have claimed that it was common in the early war years as a privately-purchased pistol, before Colt & Remington, etc., revolvers became the default fighting handguns. Trouble is, the scarcity of Sharps pistols tends to make this a bit improbable.

      Yes, Sharps did market their handguns (with the basic “slant breech” system) right along with their rifles and carbines, but they apparently never actually sold very many of the pistols.

      From all available evidence, the main users of Sharps pistols were Sharps’ own salesmen. They’d have one in their briefcase and use it to demonstrate the action to prospective buyers (like foreign ordnance boards) without the necessity of lugging a rifle or carbine around with them.

      Which makes reasonably good sense, actually. Professionals would already know how to use a rifle. They’d mainly be interested in exactly how the breech-loading system worked, and whether it was gas-tight, etc., which could be demonstrated on any handy pistol range, even an indoor one.

      For that, a “short” gun would really be all that was necessary. And a lot less aggravation all around.



      • I assumed that the salesman may have shot a few robbers on the way to town. Would such an unfortunate occurrence (for the robber, that is) convince ordinance boards to adopt the system? Or in a more outlandish scenario, would a bunch of arms dealers attempt to accost an army on the way to the frontline? Would the dealers ask the soldiers to use their goods in battle and then have the army pay the dealers based on the ammunition expenditure and on the performance of the guns when used in anger? Any ideas?

        Encouraged by the results from my “Home invasion weapon list,” I’d like to make like a 19th century arms merchant here and ask you all which guns would you buy given the chance. Please, no US Army Ordinance Board bureaucratic messes if you can avoid it. In a scenario when you feel you must defend your national interests overseas (say, in the Far East), and you are tasked with procuring arms for a company-sized infantry unit in some expeditionary force for some late 19th Century European country, which weapon sets would you pick? You may also mix-and-match equipment if you prefer. Your budget may have constrains, please don’t bankrupt yourselves.

        1. Good, old fashioned percussion-lock rifle-muskets with bayonets for the enlisted men, cap-lock revolvers (or muzzle-loading pistols) and sabers for the officers (or perhaps have the officers purchase their side-arms), and maybe a few light muzzle-loading artillery guns.

        2. Cartridge-firing single-shot breech-loading rifles for the enlisted men, cartridge-firing revolvers for the officers, and a few manually operated machineguns like the Gatling or the Gardner.

        3. Commercially available lever-action repeating rifles for the enlisted men, but the rest is just about the same as the previous weapon set.

        4. Magazine-fed bolt-action rifles for the enlisted men, everyone gets a choice of handgun(revolver or semiautomatic), and now you get automatic machineguns (Maxim or Hotchkiss) for support.

        Please respond if you can, I’m trying to think up a new “weapon of choice” questionnaire…

        • In the 1860s my first choice would be single-shot rifles on the Maynard breechloading system. The Maynard was a quite sturdy and reliable action, and its separately-primed metallic cartridge had an advantage that is often overlooked today.

          That being that its strong, heavy-duty cartridge case (basically a piece of copper tubing soldered to a copper disc with a flash hole in the middle) could be reloaded in the field almost indefinitely as long as powder and bullets were available, plus some paper to put between the powder and the flash hole to keep it from “leaking” in storage or transport.

          Given bullet moulds, spare lead, powder and percussion caps (and maybe a few rolls of waxed paper?), even in Central Africa or the Gobi Desert, a unit armed with Maynard-type rifles would be in little danger of being rendered combat-ineffective due to running out of ammunition.

          There is no reason that Gatling guns or revolvers could not use the same technique. See the 1863 Gatling with separate steel “chamber pieces”, and the Remington 1866 Army Conversion of the 1860 Army .44 percussion, which used a separate breech ring with six springloaded strikers to be hit by the hammer; it rotated with the cylinder. A similar arrangement with six percussion-cap nipples shouldn’t have been hard to manufacture.

          “Amateurs study strategy. Professionals study logistics.”



          • I’ve always thought that the Maynard system had a lot going for it, especially for its time. Your idea makes sense, especially in a situation where units might have to “forage” for supplies, and black powder and lead would be available in a region where jezails or other muzzle loaders were the predominant weapon. (I’m envisioning a sort of “Beau Geste” classical French Foreign Legion scenario, here.) Provided with a supply of caps, a few rolls of paper wads (or cut up robes from dead enemies) a few barrels of hardtack and a decent water supply, such a force could cover a lot of ground or hold out for a long time with a relatively small and less vulnerable supply chain. In fact, the Maynard concept has very old roots. In the Royal Armory at Leeds and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there are a couple of “shield guns” from the armory of Henry VIII that used a trapdoor type breech mechanism fed by a reusable steel cartridge with a threaded-in projectile and a vent at the base that was ignited by a matchlock mechanism. Other than the obduration issues and resultant gas leakage, it is a pretty advanced system for the 16th century.

          • Doc;

            Those gun shields were apparently intended for Henry’s personal guard force. At the time, when he was busy building coast forts, the idea of an attack on the King himself by Spanish or French-inspired assassins wasn’t considered far-fetched, and weapons like that would have been a nasty shock to an attacking force trying to do him in at one of his palaces.

            In Firearms Curiosa, Winant states that a 1547 inventory of arms stored in the Tower showed 40 of the “shield guns” on hand. Charles Ffoulkes’ 1910 inventory showed ten. My guess is there are a few more still floating around somewhere.

            Incidentally, Doctor Who fans are probably slightly familiar with this weapon. In the 1975 episode “Underworld”, the refugees the Doctor and Leela encountered had a weapon called a “Lieberman maser”, that looked and handled almost exactly like Henry’s “shield gun”. Except that it was more than slightly more powerful.



        • Andrew,

          I doubt it ever happened on land, but Charles Parsons did use some rather… aggressive marketing techniques to convince the Royal Navy of the usefulness of his new steam turbine engine.

          And lo and behold, a mere nine years after doing donuts at 34 knots around the Royal Navy in front of the entire British ruling class the HMS Dreadnought came off the slips with shiny new steam turbines.

        • If we’re talking a mid-19th century scenario, and logistics were not a problem, I’ve always thought that a precursor to the WW2 mixed-arms squad would have been effective. Officers and NCOs armed with cartridge revolvers and repeating carbines, and infantry units armed primarily with single shot breechloaders for accurate long range fire supported by squad mates armed with repeating rifles as the fighting ranges got shorter.

          Platoon-level fire support could be provided by lightweight “Bulldog” Gatlings on tripods and small mountain howitzers firing explosive shells and canister. Revolvers and carbines would share the same cartridges, as would the rifles and the Gatlings. I think such a force would be able to punch well above its weight, particularly in a colonial-type scenario.

  4. I guess what we now call patent trolls, are not a new phenomenon. Anyone that believes that patent laws really foster innovation clearly don’t get it.

    • I’m sure you’d find IGNITION! An Informal History Of Liquid Rocket Propellants by Dr. John D. Clark (Rutgers Univ. Press, 1971) interesting. The patent wrangles over LRPs in the 1930-70 period were a goat rodeo exceeded in intensity and occasional silliness only by the battles over perpetual motion between the “inventors”, the patent office, the legislatures (U.S. and the several states), and the courts.

      Even more amusing than the American Hatfield-McCoy action, according to Clark, was the German activity before and during WW2. The various chemical combines (BASF, etc.) were so intent on their “patent wars” they seem to have been oblivious to Allied bombing most of the time. Then their scientists went to work for us and the Soviets (but mostly us) after 1945, and the old feuds from Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, etc., continued at Dow Chemical, Westvaco, etc.

      BTW, a perpetual-motion machine is the one patent of any kind for which the U.S. Patent Office still demands a working model. I don’t blame them one bit.



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