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The Colt M1877 – The First Double Action Revolver

Colt M1877

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to navigationJump to searchThis article is about the Colt Model 1877. For other Colt Double Action firearms, see Colt Double Action.

Colt M1877
Colt M1877 “Lightning”
Place of originUnited States
Production history
DesignerWilliam Mason
Produced1877 to 1909
No. built166,849
Cartridge.32 Colt (“Rainmaker”)
.38 Long Colt (“Lightning”)
.41 Long Colt (“Thunderer”)
Actiondouble-action revolver
Feed systemCylinder magazine

Colt “Thunderer” with ejector (above), compared to Colt Single-Action Army (below).

The Colt M1877 was a double-action revolver manufactured by Colt’s Patent Fire Arms from January 1877 to 1909 for a total of 166,849 revolvers. The Model 1877 was offered in three calibers, which lent them three unofficial names: the “Lightning”, the “Thunderer”, and the “Rainmaker”. The principal difference between the models was the cartridge in which they were chambered: the “Lightning” being chambered in .38 Long Colt; the “Thunderer” in .41 Colt. Both models had a six-round ammunition capacity.[1] An earlier model in .32 Colt known as the “Rainmaker” was offered in 1877.[2]


The M1877 was designed by one of the inventors of the M1873 Colt Single Action ArmyWilliam Mason, as Colt’s first attempt at manufacturing a double-action revolver. The M1877 was the first successful US-made double-action cartridge revolver.[2]

The M1877 was offered from the factory in two basic finishes: nickel-plated or a case-hardened frame with a blue barrel and cylinder. The revolver was available in barrel lengths from 2.5″ to 7.5″ and was available with or without the ejector rod and housing. The shorter barreled versions without the ejector rod were marketed as “shopkeeper’s specials”.[1]

Neither “Lightning” nor “Thunderer” were Colt designations, nor used by the factory in any reference materials. Both terms were coined by Benjamin Kittredge, one of Colt’s major distributors. Kittredge was responsible for the terms “Peacemaker” for the Single Action Army, “Omnipotent” for the Colt M1878 double-action (often known as the “Frontier” model), and nicknames for the various chamberings of the New Line models.[3]

The M1877’s early double-action mechanism proved to be both intricate and delicate, and thus prone to breakage.[2] The design had a reputation for failure and earned the nickname “the gunsmith’s favorite”. Because of the intricate design and difficulty of repair, gunsmiths to this day dislike working on them.[2] Gun Digest referred to it as “the worst double-action trigger mechanism ever made”.[4] Typically, the trigger spring would fail and this would reduce the revolver to single-action fire only. Outwardly, the Model 1877 shows a striking resemblance to the Colt Single Action Army revolver, however it is scaled down slightly and much thinner in dimension. The standard finishes were blued, with a case-colored frame or nickel plating. The bird’s head grips were of checkered rosewood on the early guns and hard rubber on the majority of later-production guns.[4]

The “Lightning” was the favored personal weapon of famous Manchester (UK) Victorian detective and then head of CIDJerome Caminada. Old West outlaw John Wesley Hardin frequently used both “Lightning” and “Thunderer” versions of the Colt 1877 revolver.[2] Likewise the 1877 “Thunderer” in .41 caliber was the preferred weapon of Billy the Kid and was his weapon of choice when he was killed by Pat Garrett in 1881.[5][6][7] Doc Holliday was also known to carry a nickel plated colt thunder in his waistband as an accompanying gun to his nickel plated colt 1873. Both had ivory or pearl grips.


  1. Jump up to:a b Flayderman, Norm (2001). Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms… and their values. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. p. 669. ISBN 0-87349-313-3.
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e Herring, Hal (2008). Famous Firearms of the Old West: From Wild Bill Hickok’s Colt Revolvers to Geronimo’s Winchester, Twelve Guns That Shaped Our History. TwoDot. p. 224. ISBN 0-7627-4508-8.
  3. ^ Gurr, Ted Robert (1979). Violence in America: The History of Crime. SAGE. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-8039-3228-9. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  4. Jump up to:a b Wood, JB (2001). The Gun Digest Book of Firearms Assembly/Disassembly: Revolvers. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. p. 576. ISBN 978-0-87341-923-9.
  5. ^ Boorman, Dean K. (2004). Guns of the Old West: An Illustrated History. Lyons Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-59228-638-6.
  6. ^ Wilson, RL (1992). Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West. Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Publications. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-7858-1892-2.
  7. ^ Kinard, Jeff (2004). “The Metallic Cartridge and the Modern Revolver”. Pistols: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. Weapons and warfare series. ABC-CLIO. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-85109-470-7.
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About the author: donaldbaker
I am a gun enthusiast from Kentucky. My father introduced me to the joy of collecting and shooting fine firearms. I hold a B.A. in History from the University of Kentucky and an M.B.A. from the University of Louisville. I love to read historical works and watch college sports.
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March 25, 2021 9:20 pm

The Colt Model 1877 was not the first double action revolver, we can see earlier examples in the Beaumont-Adams and the Starr DA. Both are cap and ball revolvers from the 1850’s.