When most people form a mental image of a gun, they see a revolver. And for good reason: Since the 1800s, millions of these simple, rugged, easy-to-use weapons have been used by pioneers, gunslingers, soldiers, police officers, homeowners and, of course, criminals. Over the years, the basic design of revolvers has changed little. They have a cylinder containing multiple chambers, each of which holds a round. When the trigger is pulled, the cylinder rotates and a new chamber lines up with the barrel. In single-action varieties, the user must manually cock the hammer before firing. In double-action varieties, the user pulls the trigger to rotate the cylinder and draw the hammer back to a cocked position.
Samuel Colt put the revolver on the map. During the Civil War, his new company produced 100,000 revolvers -- the M1860 Army Colt and the M1861 Navy Colt -- for both Union and Confederate troops. After the war, the Colt Peacemaker, more properly known as the Colt M1873, became the symbol of frontier life, westward expansion and outlaw justice.
It didn't take long for competitors to enter the market. Remington also sold large numbers of revolvers during the Civil War. But the gun maker that would take six-shooters to a whole new level was Smith & Wesson. The company made its first revolver in 1857 and never looked back. The Model 10 has been the anchor of the S&W product line since 1899. Also known as the Military and Police Model, the Model 10 fires .38-caliber rounds through a 4-inch barrel. Smaller models, known as J-frame revolvers, are also popular. Smith & Wesson introduced the first J-frame, the Model 36 or "Chiefs Special," in 1950. These guns, with little argument, are some of the most recognizable in the history of firearms.
Up next is the most recognizable semiautomatic pistol.