There were two predominant ways of loading and unloading a six-shooter in the 1870s: At the breech, like Colt and Remington revolvers and others of similar design, and Smith & Wesson’s way with a topbreak action and automatic ejection of the spent cartridge cases as the barrel was tilted downward. However, in 1876 a third, and perhaps better way of making a six-gun expel its spent rounds was introduced by Merwin, Hulbert & Co. of Norwich, Connecticut. Joseph Merwin was an innovative gunmaker and designer for the era, who conceived his own ideas and put them into practice. The same could be said of Messrs. Smith and Wesson, and Samuel Colt, but Merwin had, in his mind, and later in reality, reinvented the way a revolver should be built and operated.
In The Beginning
Initially Merwin was well financed by partners William and M.H. Hulbert, who joined him in 1868. Merwin, Hulbert & Co. was a well-diversified business invested not only in manufacturing, but retail sales and either interests in, or outright ownership of several competitive brands. Before the introduction of the acclaimed First Model Single Action Merwin Hulbert .44 caliber revolver, the company already held a half interest in Connecticut armsmaker Hopkins & Allen, the American Cartridge Company, and Phoenix Rifle and Cartridge Co. Merwin also had substantial investments in the Evans Rifle Co., as well as distributorships for Ballard, Marlin, Winchester, L.C. Smith, Remington, Ithica, Parker, Spencer and Colt. Needless to say, a lot of superb firearms passed through Joseph Merwin’s hands, and he recognized the commonality of design among most of the handguns then in production, as well as the unique attributes of the S&W topbreak revolvers. But they all had one common flaw, even the S&W, they either had to have spent cartridges expelled one at a time, or as in the case of the S&W, spent cases, as well as any remaining loaded shells ejected when the gun was broken open. Merwin envisioned a revolver that could be opened easily and that would expel only empty cases, leaving live rounds still chambered. His design was, even by modern day standards, a feat of engineering that made Merwin Hulbert revolvers the finest built precision sidearms of the 19th century…
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