Once the Rollan White patent giving Smith & Wesson the exclusive right to manufacture a bored-through cylinder which allowed cartridges to be loaded from the rear ran out, Colt
set its designers loose creating a weapon with a revolving cylinder that held six enclosed metal cartridges that could be loaded from the rear of the cylinder for the United States government service revolver trials of 1872.
The Colt Single Action Army revolver replaced Colt’s percussion revolver. Colt’s weapon quickly gained favor over the equivalent Smith & Wesson weapon and remained the primary US military sidearm until 1892.
The very first production Single Action Army, serial number 1, was chambered in .45 caliber with 40 grains of fine grain black powder and a 16.5 gram round-nosed bullet. That was one powerful charge.
Originally called the “New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol” it quickly became the standard military service revolver.
The Single Action Army was manufactured in standard barrel lengths of 4¾”—the “Gunfighter” model, 5½”—the “Artillery” model [pictured above], as well as 7½”, standard for the Cavalry. There was also a model with a barrel less than 4” unofficially referred
With minor changes and major improvement, the Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolver was manufactureduntil the beginning of World War II, when Colt ceased production in order to fill more orders for the war.
General George S. Patton, who began his career in the horse-cavalry, carried a custom-made Single Action Army revolver with ivory grips engraved with his initials and an eagle, which became his trademark. He carried it until his death in 1945.
The power, accuracy and handling qualities of the Single Action Army (SAA) made it a popular sidearm from its creation. Thanks to Colt enthusiasts, Cowboy Action Shooting and the Single Action Shooting Society, and continued interest in the Old West, Colt still makes a version of this revolver today.