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U.S. Revolver Models 1889, 1892, 1894, 1895 and 1896

 By David L. Velleux

Colt Revolver, Model 1889

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These double action revolvers were the first truly modern sidearms adopted by the Army and Navy during the rearming of the entire American military during the late 1880s to the late 1890s. While the troops and officers who used them found them to be wanting in certain circumstances, these revolvers were on the cutting edge of late Nineteenth Century military firearms technology.


This section is intended to give the reader some basic insight on the overall design and development of the double action revolvers made by the Coltís Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut during the final years of the Nineteenth Century. A double action revolver uses a long trigger pull to both turn the revolverís cylinder to align a fresh round with the barrel and to cock and release the hammer to fire the round. A very simple weapon to be sure, but in the infancy of its development, the double action revolver was not as reliable as its single action ancestors.

Colt directly developed their line of revolvers from their Single Action Army, better known as the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker was (is) a very durable and simple gun. Its main distinguishing characteristic is a closed frame, which encompasses and holds the revolverís cylinder. Indeed, Coltís first double action revolver, the New Model Double Action, better known as the Lightning in .38 caliber and the Thunderer in .41 caliber, was simply the Peacemakerís frame and barrel mated to a revised "birdís head" grip with a double action trigger mechanism. The main problem with this arrangement was the trigger mechanism's complexity was teamed with weak parts, making simple repair by gunsmiths nearly impossible.

U.S. Revolver, Caliber .38, M1889

This revolver was Coltís first swing-out cylinder design. A spring-powered latch on the left side of the revolverís frame retained the cylinder. The cylinders rotated in a counter-clockwise direction and, as wear occurred, tended to force the cylinder out of exact alignment with the barrel. In spite of this shortcoming, the U.S. Navy purchased 5000 M1889 revolvers between 1889 and 1890.

U.S. Revolver, Caliber .38, M1892

Colt Revolver Model 1892

The Army liked the Model 1889, but wanted a small, separate bolt to hold the cylinder in firing position. The change was made and the Army purchased over 11,000 Model 1892s between 1892 and 1893. But the M1892 also suffered from the counter-clockwise cylinder rotation problems of the Model 1889.

U.S. Revolver, Caliber .38, M1894 (Army)
U.S. Revolver, Caliber .38, M1895 (Navy) (click here for more info.)
U.S. Revolver, Caliber .38, M1896

Colt Revolver Model 1894

All these revolvers were externally indistinguishable from the earlier Model 1892. The main difference lies in the incorporation of a safety mechanism developed by Frederick Felton into the lockwork. Feltonís innovation prevented the revolver from being fired while the cylinder was not fully closed and secured in the weaponís frame. Many Model 1892s were modified by the addition of Feltonís lock. The Model 1896 was virtually identical to the Model 1894 and the Model 1895, save a few minor alterations. The Army and Navy purchased approximately 144,000 Model 1894s, 1895s and 1896s between 1894 and 1900.


A major advantage of the Model 1889 was its small caliber allowed troops to be rapidly trained how to use it. And its double action mechanism was on the cutting edge of firearms technology for its day. But other than those two advantages, these Colt revolvers were not up to the task of stopping an agressor in his tracks. The troops had nothing but harsh words concerning these revolvers. However, it should be noted the Krag rifle's cartridge was not always able to instantly stop an attacker, so it was probably just poor marksmanship as the root cause for the supposed disadvantages.


United States Revolver, Caliber .38, M1889

Date Adopted
Total length:
11.5 inches (292 mm)
Weight, empty
2.07 pounds (.94 kg)
.38 long Colt
Barrel length:
6 inches (152 mm)
Muzzle velocity
785 feet per second (239 meters per second)
6 rounds

United States Revolver, Caliber .38, M1892 - Same except date of Adoption is 1892

United States Revolver, Caliber .38, M1894 - Same except date of Adoption is 1894

United States Revolver, Caliber .38, M1895 - Same except date of Adoption is 1895

United States Revolver, Caliber .38, M1896 - Same except date of Adoption is 1896


Hogg, Ian V., Pistols of the World. Third Edition, (Northbrook, Illinois: DBI Books Incorporated, 1992).

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