5 Iconic American-Made Guns That Have Made History

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When it comes to iconic American firearms, it can be tough to select the ones that have had the biggest impact on our history. After all, many of them were (and still are) very well made and served their purpose as well as could be expected.

However, as an amateur history buff and gun enthusiast (how’s THAT for a lethal combination???) I selected the 5 iconic American guns that stood out above all the others.

These guns would forever change the course of the American firearms industry, and pave the way for positive changes in the design and functionality of the guns to follow.

So without further dudes, I really hope you enjoy this article about the most iconic American guns!

1) Winchester 1873 Rifle

Winchester 1873 Winchester History

To me, the Winchester 1873 defines “iconic American guns”. The Winchester 1873 (a design inspired by the 1860 Henry rifle) was marketed as “The Rifle that Won the West”. It was so popular that the model is still being produced today!

It was originally built to chamber .44-40 cartridges, but later models featured .38-40 and .32-20 cartridge compatibility as well. Cartridges are inserted via a side loading gate into a tube magazine.

Unlike its single-shot predecessors, the Winchester 1873 could accommodate up to 15 rounds in the chamber at a time.

Also, the rifle’s ability to chamber smaller rounds made it so that anyone could carry the Winchester 1873 and a sidearm without having to worry about carrying two separate cartridges made the Winchester 1873 popular among cowboys, hunters, and everyday citizens.

Winchester 1873 Quick Specs

Creation Year: 1873

Weight: 9.5 lbs

Body Length: 49.3 inches

Barrel Length: 30 inches

Creator: The Winchester Repeating Arms Company

Watch Tom Cruise in this clip from The Last Samurai. He does a great job selling the many virtues of the rifle!

Winchester 1873 Military Service

American Indian Wars

Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78,

North-West Rebellion,

French intervention in Mexico

Spanish–American War

Mexican Revolution

World War I

World War II

Indonesian National Revolution

Uprising of 1953 in East Germany

How Does a Winchester 1873 Work?

How Much Did a Winchester 1873 Cost?

The Winchester 1873 was expensive when it first came out. Its average price was around $50 in 1873, which means, adjusted for 2020 inflation, it would cost $1,084.50 today.

However, according to the NRA Museum, its value had significantly decreased by the end of the 1800s. A Winchester 1873 rifle could be purchased for about $19.50. This would come out to $611.50 in 2020.

Winchester 1873 Today

Like the Colt Single Action Revolver, the 1873 Winchester experienced a resurgence of popularity with the rise of Western-themed Hollywood films. Although in the case of the Winchester rifle, this happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s (when cowboy action shooting became big).

The 1873 Winchester rifle is still available for purchase to this day, although the design has been slightly altered. It now only accepts .357 magnum and .38 special cartridges, and can only hold 11 .38 special cartridges and 10 .357 magnum cartridges.

However, there are safety features incorporated in today’s models that certainly would not have been found in 1873. At that time, the best way to prevent inexperienced shooters would have been to remove the lever that cocks the weapon.

Nowadays, there is a tang safety (sliding bar that prevents a gun from firing) as well as the safety feature located in the bolt that stops the gun from going off should it ever be dropped muzzle-first.

Wrap Up

The 1873 Winchester rifle is probably my personal favorite. I love history, and I love a reliable gun.

Some people are surprised to learn that the new Winchester 1873 rifles, while still maintaining the Winchester name, are actually manufactured primarily in Japan by a company called Miroku.

I’m all for American-made guns, but I honestly believe that when it comes to the classic 1873 Winchester rifle, Miroku does just as good a job as the original Winchester plant in New Haven once did.

Overall, I rate the Winchester 1873 a 10/10 for standing the test of time, and for being AWESOME.

2) Springfield M1903 Rifle

Warfare History Network

Springfield M1903 History

The M1903 Springfield rifle is another gun that has truly stood the test of time. Originally standardized by the U.S. Army in 1903, the M1903 Springfield is a bolt-action repeating rifle with a 5 round capacity that fits into a stripper clip for easy speed loading.

It was used by most soldiers primarily during WWI, but was also used in WWII by U.S. soldiers alongside the M1 Garand rifle.

M1903 Springfield Quick Specs

Creator: Springfield Armory

Year of Creation: 1903

Rifle Weight: 8.7 lbs

Rifle Length: 43.2 inches

Cartridge: .30-06

How Does a M1903 Springfield Rifle Work?

M1903 Springfield in War

Uses

Infantrymen

Snipers

American Wars

World War I (1914-1918)

World War II (1939-1945)

Korean War (1950-1953)

Vietnam War (1955-1975) *Early stages only

The .30-06 Cartridge

When I talk about the best and most iconic American guns, I think its necessary to throw out some information about the cartridge it takes.

The .30-06 cartridge is what the M1903 Springfield rifle chambers. The “.30” refers to its caliber- a .308 inch-diameter bullet. The “06” refers to the year the cartridge was created, 1906.

It is one of the most versatile center-fire cartridges ever made and has been utilized for both military and hunting purposes.

Compared to the traditional .30-caliber rounds, the .30-06 cartridge is much more aerodynamic. It is able to maintain its velocity up to 1,800 yards.

Can the M1903 be used for Hunting?

When used for hunting, the weight of the .30-06 cartridge should be taken into consideration.

The lightweight expanding .30-06 cartridge, (weight 150 grains) is great for animals like whitetail deer and antelope.

The 165-grain .30-06 cartridge is a tougher round and is well-suited for larger animals like elk.

Finally, the 180-grain controlled-expansion .30-06 cartridge is great for moderate range shooting and a good choice for elk hunting.

Would the M1903 Springfield Rifle be Good in a Firefight?

Considering that the M1903 rifle saw extensive use in battle, I would say yes.

The 5 round stripper clip makes for fast reload times, the .30-06 cartridge is sturdy and reduces the recoil when fired, and the mid-to-long range accuracy allows you to pick off your enemies from a good distance.

Wrap-Up

The most iconic American guns are the guns that stand the test of time. And while the M1903 Springfield was gradually phased out by the military for combat purposes, it is still regularly used today for rifle training and by honor guard units for ceremonial purposes.

The fact that the M1903 rifle stayed around as long as it has proves that it meets the incredibly high standard at which gun excellence is measured.

3) Colt Python Revolver

Colt Python Revolver Overview

The Colt Python revolver was Colt’s top-of-the-line model when it was first introduced in 1955. It was intended to be a modification of the .38 Special, the cartridge that was much applauded by law enforcement officers due to its ability to penetrate the bulletproof cars driven by the gangsters and bootleggers of the 1930’s.

Because of this, the Colt Python features a ventilated rib, precision adjustable sights, and a full barrel underlug to act as a stabilizer. Like the Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver, it functions well as a sidearm for big game hunters.

The Colt Python was also favored by police officers for many years, until department-issued, semi-automatic pistols began to phase them out.

Colt Python Quick Specs

Name: Colt Python

Year Created: 1955

Creator: Colt Manufacturing Company

Revolver Type: Double Action

Capacity: 6 rounds

Cartridge: .357 Magnum

Some Notes About the Colt Python

  • The Colt Python’s barrel length options make it a great option for a conceal/carry weapon.
  • With the full barrel underlug design, the recoil is greatly reduced.
  • The Colt Python’s grip is slightly less thick than you would hope for, but unlike the 44 Magnum, the recoil is minimal so it’s not that big a factor.
  • The Colt Python’s design, which serves the dual function of fashion and function, has been called the greatest production revolver that’s ever been made by leading firearm experts and collectors.
  • When the Colt Python was in production, it went for about 1,000 to $1,200 (when adjusted for today’s inflation rates).
  • It was also considered a trophy weapon by various world leaders such as Anwar Sadat (former president of Egypt), Hassan II (former King of Morocco) and Juan Carlos I (former king of Spain).
  • The Colt Manufacturing Company ceased mainstream production of the Colt Python in 1999, so they command a very respectable price on the used guns market today.

.357 Magnum vs .38 Special Cartridges

The .357 Magnum round outperforms the .38 Special rounds in terms of velocity- ballistics tests revealed that the .357 Magnum rounds have an average velocity of 1,450 feet per second, while the .38 Special round has an average velocity of just 900 feet per second.

However, it is worth considering that a beginner shooter will do well with the .357 round because of the significantly reduced recoil.

Colt Python Barrel Length

The standard Colt Python barrel lengths are 2.5 inches, 3 inches, 4 inches, 6 inches, and 8 inches.  

Would the Colt Python be Good in a Firefight?

The Colt Python only accommodates 6 rounds, so you would be at a natural disadvantage if you were to go up against a lot of people.

Additionally, the Colt Python requires manual cocking before each shot, so the fire rate is significantly reduced. Especially if your goal is to hit constantly moving targets.

However, if your targets were in armored vehicles or wearing bulletproof vests, a Colt Python with .38 special rounds would have the best chance of penetrating them.

The Colt Python’s sights and body design also make it possible to achieve consistent accuracy at up to 50 yards, so you could pick off your targets from a medium range distance if your aim was steady enough.

Wrap-Up

To recap, the Colt Python is a great revolver. Police officers relied on its versatility for years, it’s a great conceal carry option, and the calibers the Colt Python accommodates (.357 Magnum) reduces recoil, but does not compromise the velocity.

Its cool factor has also gone through the roof in recent years because it is the weapon of choice of Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead. If you can get your hands on one of these beauties, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

4) Smith and Wesson Model 29

Photo: Washington Times

The Smith and Wesson Model 29 revolver (more commonly referred to by its cartridge type, “44 Magnum”) was originally intended to be used as a sidearm for big game hunters.

However, after the gun was used by Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” Callahan in the Hollywood film series Dirty Harry, Smith and Wesson Model 29 revolvers skyrocketed in popularity and were extremely difficult to find for nearly a decade.

Smith and Wesson Model 29 Quick Specs

Name: Model 29 Revolver

Year Created: 1955

Creator: Smith & Wesson

Revolver Type: Double Action

Capacity: 6 rounds

Cartridge: .44 Magnum, .44 Special

Caliber: .429 inches

Barrel Length: 3 in, 4 in, 5 in, 6 in, 6.5 in, 10 ½ in

Notes About the Model 29

There are a lot of great things to be said about the Model 29 handgun. Elmer Keith, the creator of the gun, personally favored the 4-inch barrel because of its versatility.

The sights are on point, but there is a monstrous recoil that can hinder even the most experienced of shooters.

Like most other handguns, the Model 29 grip makes all the difference- when you get a thinner grip, the recoil is brutal and it’ll hurt to shoot it after a surprisingly short period of time.

For the sake of consistency, and also for the sake of preventing your hand from falling off, it is advisable to take a thicker grip into consideration when purchasing a Smith and Wesson Model 29 revolver.

Credit: YouTube User hickoc45

.44 Magnum vs. the .44 Special Cartridges

As the .44 Magnum rounds are higher pressure than the .44 special rounds, they have a tendency to tax whatever gun they’re loaded into much quicker. They also cause a harder kickback.

Your choice of rounds is dependent on what you need them for. 44 Magnum rounds have proven to be very successful for big game hunting, capable of bringing down animals such as elk, polar bears, elephants, and bison.

If you’re looking to do target shooting, the .44 special round is the way to go. They have a much faster trajectory rate than the magnum round, and the recoil is significantly reduced.

Smith and Wesson Model 29 Barrel Length

As we talked about before, the standard Smith and Wesson Model 29 barrel lengths are 3 in, 4 in, 5 in, 6 in, 6.5 in, 10 ½ in.  Longer barrels increase velocity and accuracy when it comes to the 44 Magnum. Or any handgun, for that matter.

The barrel length of the 44 Magnum is worth taking into consideration if you’re thinking of using it as a concealed carry weapon. The longer the barrel, the harder it will be to effectively conceal.

Is the Model 29 Good in a Firefight?

Because the Model 29’s chambers only accommodate 6 rounds, this probably would not be the best choice.

Additionally, the Model 29’s rate of fire is slower than most other handguns. Any veteran police officer or solder will tell you the importance of being able to put out multiple rounds rapidly, in order to increase the chances of hitting a moving target.

Lastly, the Model 29 is best suited for long-range shooting. If your firefight was up close and personal, it wouldn’t serve you as well as you’d need it to.

Wrap-Up

The Smith and Wesson Model 29 is a great weapon for its main purposes, which are target shooting and big game hunting. It’s powerful, has great velocity and range for a handgun, is extremely accurate at medium to long range, and let’s be honest- it has an incredible sound when fired.

When it comes to versatility, however, there are many other handguns that outdo the Model 29.

5) Colt Single Action Revolver

General George S. Patton conversing with his staff during a European operation, with his trusty Colt Single Action revolver visible

Colt Single Action Army Quick Specs

Colt Single Action Revolver Creation Year: 1873

Weight: 2.31 lbs

Length: 11 inches (5 inch barrel) and 12.5 inches (7 1/2 inch barrel)

Creator: Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company

Colt Single Action Revolver Intended Use: Issued to U.S. military and government officials, served as the standard military service revolver for U.S. Army officers from 1873-1892

Colt Single Action Army Revolver Military Service

American Indian Wars (1800s)

Spanish-American War (April-August 1893)

Philippine-American War (1899-1902)

Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)

World War I (1914-1918)

World War II (1939-1945)

Colt Single Action Army Revolver Non-Military Use 

Because of its widely publicized use among legendary lawmen like Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, and Bat Masterson, the Colt Single Action revolver was coined as “The Peacemaker” and became immensely popular among civilians. It also earns its rightful place on the list of iconic American guns!

The Colt Single Action was also staggeringly expensive during the 1870s, with its average price being around $17. That would come out to a total of approximately $337.77 in 2020.

Source: Popular Mechanics

The Colt Single Action Army revolver was also popular among notorious outlaws like Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum.

Although Colt ceased production of the Colt Single Action Army revolver in 1945, American general George S. Patton carried a custom one engraved with his initials and an eagle throughout his entire military career.

General Patton’s Colt Single Action Army (with his initials engraved in the handle) on display

Colt Single Action Army Revolver Safety

Like its predecessors, the Colt Single Action Army revolver featured a rotating cylinder with a six-shot capacity. The lack of a safety mechanism in the early designs prompted carriers of the weapon to load only 5 of the 6 chambers at a time, and line the hammer up with the empty one so as to avoid accidental discharge if the gun were ever to be dropped.

Firing the Colt Single Action Army Revolver

The Colt Single Action Army revolver is discharged by manually pulling back the hammer with each shot. It was later shown that it was also possible to fire the weapon rapidly by holding down the trigger and repeatedly fanning the hammer.

Colt Single Action Army Revolver Today

Following the end of World War II, the Colt Single Action experienced a resurgence of popularity with the rise of Western-themed Hollywood films. This prompted Colt to resume making it in 1956.

The Colt Single Action revolver is still available for purchase to this day, although the design has been slightly altered. It now comes in 2 finishes: All-Nickel and Blued with a color case-hardened frame.

It also comes with 3 different barrel lengths- 4 1/2, 5 1/2, and 7 1/2 inches.

Colt Single Action Army Calibers

Lastly, Colt has expanded the number of compatible calibers for the Single Action revolver. It now has 8 chamberings, which are:

  • .32-20
  • .38-40
  • .44-40
  • .38 Special
  • .357 Magnum
  • .44 Special
  • .45 Colt, or .45 ACP

Back to You!

Whether they were made for hunting, personal protection, or military purposes, these iconic American guns have made an indelible mark on our country’s history. The fame of these guns was, thankfully, also immortalized in Hollywood films.

The anti-gun readers out there will probably criticize me, but I personally appreciate them for more than simply their ability to kill.

Rather, I appreciate these iconic American guns because of their role as tools of historical significance and the inspiration they gave gun makers to continually produce new and improved models in the years to follow.

Do you have a favorite gun from history? Tell us what it is in the comment box below!

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Ciao for now!