I just read “Gun Barons: the Weapons that Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them” (St. Martin’s Press, 2022). Author John Bainbridge, Jr. starts off with this statement: “Americans love their guns. Hate them, too. They are on our hips, in our bedside drawers, welded to our psyche and our language. Our conversations are peppered with gun metaphors: We set our sights, take a long shot, look for a silver bullet, are straight shooters, shoot from the hip, and go off half-cocked. We ride shotgun, sweat bullets, and keep our powder dry. We stick to our guns.  They dwell in our soul.”

Bainbridge, neutral on the gun control issue at least in the book, focuses on the inventors and manufacturers, the marketers, and most important, the many things that drove the markets for firearms in the first place.  We meet Samuel Colt, Oliver Winchester (and the men who really designed his rifles), and Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson and more.  We learn the background of the Spencer repeating rifle, and how hands-on shooting brought Abraham Lincoln from hating it to loving it and approving it for the Union armies.  We learn why the Spencer missed its chance to unseat the Winchester as the lever action repeating rifle that “won the West.” 

And more, much more.  All set within the context of the times. Military needs and civilian needs, and the needs of other countries in troubled eras.  We meet inventors who sold their brainchildren cheap and made millionaires out of the market-savvy manufacturers who bought their patents.  We witness patent wars, such as Rollin White versus Smith & Wesson, whom he felt didn’t pay him enough for his patent on a revolver cylinder with its chambers bored all the way through for metallic cartridges.

I’ve been in this game a long time, and Bainbridge told me things I didn’t know…and he told them well.  A great read, thumbs up.


  1. Sold.

    Just read the biography on Samuel Colt called “Revolver”, it was disappointing. Want to know about Colt’s actual revolvers? Find another book. Sometimes I had no idea what model the author was even talking about, or if the author even cared. He clearly was not interested in guns, I don’t know why he wrote the book. Also underplayed how important Colt was to this country.

    • Funny, I see where the author of Revolver has a blurb on the front cover of this one.

  2. I have quite a collection of gun books. The Winchester books by George Madis, books on all of the well known makers such as Colt, Marlin, Remington, Smith and Wesson and more. Although I have not read all of them from cover to cover, I have discovered that many of these guys actually worked together, worked for one another, etc at some point in those early days. I often wanted to read them all and take notes and put together a short seminar, showing people how most of the original American gunmakers that we are familiar with are tied together at various points. Thanks for the heads up, Mas. I will add this book to my collection. Might save me alot of work.

  3. Long ago I recall reading about how the Spencer lost out to Winchester/Henry and can’t recall it. Not that I’m a big western fan, but I can only recall seeing one Spencer in the movies.

    • My late father’s mother’s maiden name was Alice Cheney. She came from a long line of Cheney males (living in CT) who were heavily involved in development of CT manufacturing during the entire 19th Century.

      Extract from History of Connecticut

      “In the following year, 1854, Cheney Brothers began spinning waste silk—taken from damaged cocoons—and became the first factory in the world to successfully develop a sustainable method for turning waste silk into a final product with no noticeable imperfections. The company invested heavily in the waste spinning technology.

      It plowed approximately $30,000 into factory refits to facilitate the new production. In late 1854, Mt. Nebo became the Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company, and the firm opened a second factory, where silk ribbon was produced on Morgan Street in Hartford.

      This commitment to technology paid off: Cheney’s capital stock increased to $400,000 and, by 1860, the mill employed 600 workers and boasted an annual production valued at about $551,000.

      Cheney’s two innovations established the company’s reputation for ingenuity and Cheney began to attract many highly trained machinists.

      One of these, Christopher Spencer, an ex-Colt firearms employee, expanded the company into the arms industry with his revolutionary Spencer Rifle, patented in 1860.

      Developed exclusively in Cheney’s Manchester factory, this rifle boasted a revolutionary firing rate of 15 to 16 shots per minute.

      In 1863, Spencer brought his rifle to Washington, D.C. and arranged a personal demonstration for President Abraham Lincoln.

      On August 13, 1863, the President fired seven shots from the Manchester-made rifle and was impressed by the rifle’s accuracy and speed.

      The President immediately ordered all the weapons the company could make.

      The Cheney Brothers helped Spencer organize a separate company to manufacture the rifle and leased factory space in Massachusetts.

      More than 200,000 Spencer Rifles were ultimately produced before the Spencer Arms Division was sold to the Winchester Company following the Civil War.”

      The realization that direct ancestors on my father’s side of the family funded the manufacturing of the Spencer Rifle and were likely present with Christopher Spencer when President Abraham Lincoln dropped the hammer on seven primers and sent seven rounds downrange makes me so proud to be an American. Framed photos of the Cheney Brothers, Christopher Spencer and President Lincoln appear on my home office’s wall.

      History matters! 🇺🇸

  4. You find all types in the field of firearms design and marketing.

    You have some people, like Oliver Winchester, that have zero (0) skills in firearm’s design but who are highly skilled in the business and marketing of firearms.

    Others, like Sam Colt and Bill Ruger, are a mixed bag. Both Colt and Ruger had some design skills. Their main skill, however, was in developing arms that appealed to the market and then selling them to that market.

    Then you have a few, like John Moses Browning himself, who are brilliant at firearm’s design. Browning developed firearms that were 100 years ahead of their time. Many of his designs are still being sold today. His M2 heavy machine gun is still in service, with multiple armies around the world today. It is still in front-line service with the U.S. Military a century after it was first adopted!

    Then you have designers like Gaston Glock or Mikhail Kalashnikov. Their skill was in taking features already designed into other firearms, and merging them into a new firearm design that was greater than the sum of its parts. They were also both highly skilled in the K.I.S.S. principle and produced designs that were simple, strong and highly reliable.

    As they say: “It takes all types to make the World go ’round.” The firearms industry is certainly proof of that statement!

  5. One of the more interesting old revolver calibers is the Moore .32 caliber “teat-fire,” or rim fire, I believe. Revolvers in this cartridge were most often advertised for belt carry rather than for a chest rig, despite the somewhat frontally thoracic reference above. You don’t find many modern cartridges described like that. Reminds me of the words “Bag Balm.” How times have changed, or, where was the language police when needed? Many such revolvers were produced during the War Between the States. Some were six-shot, some seven. Usually contained an 80-grain bullet, or so. At least one member of the James-Younger gang reportedly carried one on the “Great Northfield Minnesota Raid” (Some disaster, eh? What geniuses!). Intriguing how well a .32 black powder round might perform. Would probably make a great cigar lighter.

    • Yes, there are a number of unusual types of cartridge revolvers produced in the 1860’s with the design goal of working around the Rollin White patent for a bored-through cylinder. The Moore “teat-fire” was one of the better “work-arounds”. It was developed after the company had already been burned by a patent infringement suit by Smith & Wesson (who held the legal rights to the Rollin White patent).

      Of course, once the Rollin White patent expired, there was no need for such “work arounds” and every revolver maker jumped directly to manufacturing regular rim-fire or center-fire cartridge guns.

      There is a good video on YouTube that explains all these details, and which shows how the Moore Revolver worked. Here is the link to it:


  6. Off-topic but here is an opinion piece that is 100% on-target:


    I wish that someone would be bold enough to go after the Firearm-Prohibitionist’s crown jewels. Bold enough to challenge the very foundation of the “arbitrary and capricious” laws that underpin their power-base in the BATFE..

    What about it, Mas? Does the 2nd Amendment Foundation, in the light of the recent BRUEN decision, have the cahones to attack the crown jewels of the Prohibitionists?

    The rules may have changed enough make such a landmark attack feasible. We seem to have, for a brief moment-in-time, a Supreme Court willing to consider the 2nd Amendment as a true Constitutional Right. This window won’t stay open forever. I suggest that the Pro-2A forces should “strike while the iron it hot”!

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