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“Brown Bess” is a generic term for several variations of the standard issue British musket during the 1700s and 1800s, it saw extensive use on both sides of the Revolutionary War.
Also known as the “Kentucky Long Rifle,” American-made long rifles had much longer barrels than their European counterparts. In addition to their length the barrels used were also rifled, and the accuracy that resulted enabled marksmen to hit a man-sized target at over 200 yards (a comparable smoothbore musket had an effective range of less than 100 yards). Although slower to load than muskets, these weapons (and their accuracy) helped American colonists gain independence from England and eek out an existence on the American Frontier.
Chambered in for a .577 caliber “Minie” ball, this rifle represented the British Empires switch from smoothbore muskets to rifled muskets. In service from 1853 to 1867, the Pattern saw action all over the world, and was the second-most used infantry weapon in the American Civil War (second only to the Springfield 1861).
Patented in 1860 by Benjamin Tyler Henry and chambered for the .44 caliber rimfire cartridge, Confederate soldiers referred to it as “that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!” While never issued on a large scale by either army, many Civil War soldiers bought one with their re-enlistment bounties.
The Spencer Repeating Rifle was the first officially adopted repeater in U.S. military history. While it was introduced in 1860, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln was given a personal demonstration that the potential of the rifle was recognized (it was subsequently adopted). Upon his capture, John Wilkes Booth was armed with a Spencer.
After Dr. Richard Gatling patented his invention on November 4th, 1862, he wrote that he designed it to reduce the size of armies, and to show that war was futile. Instead, he forever altered the course of large-scale armed combat.
A small percussion handgun designed by Henry Derringer and introduced in 1852, the Philadelphia Deringer was a popular concealed carry handgun in its day. On April 14th, 1865, while watching the play Our American Cousin, President Abraham Lincoln was shot & killed at point blank range by John Wilkes Booth’s Philadelphia Deringer.
Developed for the U.S. government service revolver trials in 1872, the Colt Single Action Army (dubbed “The Peacemaker”) was not only a standard issue military sidearm, but was also a wildly popular handgun all across the American West. General George Patton carried an ivory-handled Peacemaker all over Europe During WWII, and if it was good enough for “Ol’ Blood and Guts,” it’s good enough for the rest of us.
Known as “The Gun That Won The West,” the Winchester 1873 was chambered for popular handgun cartridges of the day, like .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20 and was extremely popular with settlers on the American frontier.
The first true automatic weapon, the Maxim gun played a key role in Great Britain’s rapid colonization of Africa. It was capable of firing 500 .303 British rounds per minute, and is the grandfather of the modern machine gun.
Continuing the tradition of popular lever action rifles, the Winchester Model 1886 was designed by John Browning to handle the newer big bore cartridges of the day. The action was strong enough to handle the more powerful smokeless powder cartridges that were being developed, which signaled the end of blackpowder’s reign at the pinnacle of firearms design.
Another great John Browning design, the Winchester Model 94 is one of the most successful lever guns ever produced, and has probably killed more whitetail deer in the United States than any other firearm.
The last gun that John Browning designed for Winchester, the model 1895 was the first Winchester rifle to feature a magazine under the action, rather than a tube magazine. This allowed the use of more powerful military & big game cartridges using pointed bullets. Teddy Roosevelt took several 1895s to Africa, and referred to them (chambered in .405 Winchester) as his “medicine gun for lions.”
Firing the .303 British cartridge, the Lee Enfield was Britain’s main battle rifle in both world wars. British soldiers were trained to fire so rapidly (and accurately) that German forces in WWI often thought they were under machine gun fire, when it was simply British riflemen and their Lee Enfields. Many believe that it is the finest bolt action service rifle ever produced.
The first commercially successful pump shotgun, the 1897 (based on the model 1893) slowly became the most popular shotgun in America and set the stage for all future pump guns.
Patented by Paul Mauser in 1895, the bolt action system first used in the German Gewehr 98 became the foundation for the most successful bolt action rifle ever produced. Mauser actions were the foundation for several different military service rifles, and remain popular with hunters and custom gun builders today.
Previously known as the “Smith & Wesson Military & Police,” over 6,000,000 Model 10s have been produced, making it the most popular centerfire revolver of the 20th Century.
The Springfield was the first bolt-action service rifle in the world, signaling the start of a new era in military weapons and tactics. It was issued as a standard service rifle up to the beginning of WWII (due to a shortage of M1 Garands) and remained in service as a sniper rifle until the Vietnam War. It fires the popular .30-06 cartridge, and is still used in Marine Corps shooting matches today.
Famed gun designer John Browning (who designed many of the guns on this list) designed the Auto 5 in 1898, calling it his “best achievement.” It was the first mass-produced semi-automatic shotgun, and remained in production until 1998.
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