Military Wiki
Colt M1878
Colt DA Mod 1878 cal 45 cal 44-40.JPG
Colt M1878
Type Revolver
Place of origin  USA
Production history
Designer William Mason
Designed 1878
Manufacturer Colt
Produced 1878 (1878)-1907 (1907)
Number built 51,210
Caliber .45 Colt, .32-20 WCF, .38 Colt, .38-40 WCF, .41 Colt, .44-40 WCF, .455 Webley, .476 Eley
Action double action revolver
Feed system Cylinder magazine

The Colt M1878 was a double action revolver manufactured by Colt's Manufacturing Company from 1878 to 1907. It is often referred to as the "Frontier" or the "Double Action Army" revolver.


Sam Colt experimented with double action systems, but considered them to be unreliable. After Colt's patent expired in 1857, other manufacturers began producing double action revolvers. Colt did not manufacture its own double action revolver until 1877, twenty years after the patent had expired.[1]

The M1878 was designed by William Mason, Colt's factory manager and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards, Superintendent of Engineering. It was similar in design to the Colt Model 1877. The Model 1878 had a larger frame, and is therefore sometimes referred to as the "large frame" double action revolver, while the Model 1877 is likewise referred to as the "small frame" double action revolver. The Model 1878 was considered a more robust and reliable design than the Model 1877.

51,210 Model 1878 revolvers were manufactured from 1878 to 1907.[2]

Design and Features

The design of the Model 1878 was based on the Model 1877, which in turn was based heavily on the design of the earlier Colt Single Action Army revolver. The double action revolver is not dramatically different in design than the single action revolver. A strut is added to connect the trigger movement to the hammer. The top of the trigger slips beyond the strut so that the hammer will stay in full cock if it is pulled back manually.

The Model 1878 had a larger frame than the Model 1877, which allowed it to fire larger and more powerful cartridges, such as the .45 Colt and .44-40.

The Model 1878 used the same barrel, ejector parts, and a very similar cylinder to the Single Action Army revolver. At one time, the factory even modified Model 1878 cylinders for use in single action revolvers in an attempt to use up spare parts.[3]


The Model 1878 was available in .45 Colt, .32-20, .38 Colt, .38-40, .41 Colt, .44-40, .455 Webley and .476 Eley. The most popular calibers were .45 and .44-40.

Colt Model 1902 "Philippine"

The barrel was available in several different lengths. Smaller barrels were more easily concealed, and were therefore preferred by both criminals and plainclothes law enforcement officials.[4] Barrel lengths available were 3, 3-1/2, 4, 4-3/4, 5-1/2, and 7-1/2 inches. Revolvers with 4 inch and shorter barrels did not have an ejector.[5]

Standard grips were black checkered hard rubber. Many early revolvers were also produced with checkered walnut grips.

In 1902, 4,600 Model 1878 revolvers were produced for a U.S. Army contract. They were intended to equip the Philippine Constabulary under Brigadier General Henry T. Allen in the Philippine Insurrection. These revolvers had a 6 inch barrel, a hard rubber grip, and were chambered for the .45 Colt round. They had a strengthened main spring and a longer trigger to give the user more leverage, resulting a larger trigger guard. "[6] The strengthened main spring was necessary to fire the .45 Government rounds with a less sensitive primer compared to the civil .45 LC ammunition. Many people have incorrectly assumed that this was to allow the revolver to be operated while wearing gloves, so "Alaskan Model" is a misnomer.

In Literature

Louis L'Amour often inserted guns that he thought were interesting into his works. In "The Man Called Noon" the character Jonas carries a model 1878, referred to by its common name, the Frontier. "The gun was new, a Frontier model, and the weight of it on his hip was comforting."[7]


  1. "Guns of the Old West: An Illustrated History" By Dean K. Boorman
  2. "Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values" by Norm Flayderman
  3. "Antique Firearms: Assembly/Disassembly" By David R. Chicoine
  4. "The Wild Wild West of Louis L'amour" By Bruce Wexler
  5. "Antique Firearms: Assembly/Disassembly" By David R. Chicoine
  6. "Colt's Double-Action Revolver, Model of 1878" Copyright 1998 by Don Wilkerson, ISBN 0-9617876-4-3
  7. "The Man Called Noon" (1970) ISBN 0-553-24753-0

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).