Skip to main content

Colt 1851 Navy

Colt 1851 Navy

Beginning with this issue, our "Great Guns" series turns its attention to handguns from our nation's past that hold a military pedigree.

There's little question that the Model 1851 Colt navy revolver is one of the more important firearms in American history--not necessarily because it was the most powerful repeater of its time (it wasn't) nor because it was any more reliable or accurate than its competitors. As they say, timing is everything, and the '51 entered center stage at just the right moment.

Samuel Colt introduced his first Paterson percussion revolvers in 1837. The first models were small and not particularly powerful. Eventually a .36 caliber belt model appeared and saw some military use, but it still wasn't a big hit. In short order, Colt came up with the behemoth .44 Walker revolver, which weighed more than 4.5 pounds, and then various other large revolvers such as the .44 "Dragoons." They were strong and powerful, though a bit too hefty to carry in a waistbelt holster for extended periods.


In 1849, Colt hit it rich with his .31 caliber Pocket Model, which put his company on a firm financial footing but still wasn't all that powerful; an upscale new belt model, the 1851 Navy (so named for a cylinder roll engraving depicting a battle between the Mexican and Yucatan navies), made its appearance in 1850. Chambered in an effective .36 caliber and weighing just two pounds 10 ounces, it became an instant hit with adventurers, city dwellers and the military.


Adopted officially by the U.S. Army and Navy, it saw considerable Civil War usage. In fact, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee carried one throughout the conflict. It was also the most-copied Rebel revolver south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The '51 was popular with desperados and lawmen, and "Wild Bill" Hickok often carried a brace of ivory-gripped '51s thrust into his sash. It is said he performed some prodigious feats of marksmanship with these guns.

The 1851 went through a number of variations--including some of most highly embellished revolvers of the period--and by the time production ceased in 1873, close to quarter-million had been made. With such a pedigree, there is little doubt that it is one America's most influential arms.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Ruger Security 9 Compact

Ruger Security 9 Compact

This handgun lives up to what Ruger wanted to build: a solid, dependable, easy-racking carry/home defense pistol at a better-than-reasonable price.

Handgun Basics

Handgun Basics

SIG Academy's Hana Bilodeau joins Rich and Jim to discuss the essential skills all handgunners should master.

Federal Premium Punch Defensive Handgun Ammo: Reviewed & Tested

Federal Premium Punch Defensive Handgun Ammo: Reviewed & Tested

Handguns editor Scott Rupp fires some Federal Punch .380 defensive handgun ammo into ballistics gel the range for a performance test run.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The SIG SAUER P365 (model # 365-9-BXR3) may just be the subcompact 9mm against which all others will be judged.SIG P365 Review Compact

SIG P365 Review

James Tarr - October 31, 2018

The SIG SAUER P365 (model # 365-9-BXR3) may just be the subcompact 9mm against which all...

A look at eight optics-ready pistols for just about any application or budget, including offerings from CZ-USA, Springfield, Smith & Wesson and more.8 Great Red-Dot-Ready Pistols Sights

8 Great Red-Dot-Ready Pistols

Brad Fitzpatrick - July 01, 2020

A look at eight optics-ready pistols for just about any application or budget, including...

One of the newest in the Micro 9 series, the Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall is a serious pistol designed for personal defense.Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall Review Compact

Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall Review

Jeff Chudwin - January 29, 2019

One of the newest in the Micro 9 series, the Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall is a serious pistol...

The Smith & Wesson Model 13 revolver was a combat classic back in the day.Smith & Wesson Model 13 Revolver Revolvers

Smith & Wesson Model 13 Revolver

Payton Miller - July 31, 2020

The Smith & Wesson Model 13 revolver was a combat classic back in the day.

See More Trending Articles

More Historical

'

Like many people, I root for the underdog, and that tendency spills over into my gunFour Cheers for the .41 Historical

Four Cheers for the .41

J. Scott Rupp - June 21, 2011

' Like many people, I root for the underdog, and that tendency spills over into my gun

Mec-Gar Srl, one of the largest OEM firearm magazine manufacturers in the world, is celebrating 50Mec-Gar Srl Celebrates 50 Years of Business Historical

Mec-Gar Srl Celebrates 50 Years of Business

Handguns Online Staff - April 24, 2015

Mec-Gar Srl, one of the largest OEM firearm magazine manufacturers in the world, is...

The story of the 1917 revolver and .45 Auto Rim.History of the 1917 Revolver and .45 Auto Rim Revolvers

History of the 1917 Revolver and .45 Auto Rim

Bob Campbell - March 04, 2020

The story of the 1917 revolver and .45 Auto Rim.

Colt's premier .357 hits the big five-oh.Colt Python: A Complete History Historical

Colt Python: A Complete History

Rick Hacker - December 21, 2015

Colt's premier .357 hits the big five-oh.

See More Historical

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now