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Old October 20, 2014, 03:38 PM   #1
spacecoast
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What if semi-autos had come first?

It occurred to me today that if the semi-auto action (first made practical in "handgun" form I believe by Hugo Borchardt, although the practicality of it is arguable) had occurred prior to the invention of the mass-produced revolver action by Samuel Colt, we may never have seen the revolver in all of its forms, and with the ability to handle the wide variety of cartridges that it does.

What do you think?

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Old October 20, 2014, 03:52 PM   #2
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Revolvers can handle loads and cartridges that semi's cannot, so someone would have thought of it. (and actually did)

Colt didn't invent them, and in fact they had been around close to 300 years before he was born


Colt made the first mass produced guns, which made them more affordable to the average person
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Old October 20, 2014, 04:01 PM   #3
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How many rounds,,,

How many rounds could a black powder semi fire,,,
Before it fouled up completely?

Way back in the deep dark recesses of my mind,,,
I seem to recall a magazine article where one author tried it.

He loaded up some .45 and used a military surplus 1911,,,
If I recall correctly he got less than 3 mags before it was too dirty to run.

Was the Borchardt a black powder or a smokeless design?

I know next to nothing about that pistol.

Aarond

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Old October 20, 2014, 04:06 PM   #4
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Was the Borchardt a black powder or a smokeless design?
It was smokeless
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Old October 20, 2014, 04:22 PM   #5
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Thanks Snyper,,,

I just went to imfdb.org and looked at the pistol used in the movie Big Jake,,,
For some reason I thought they used a borshardt,,,
But it was supposed to be a Bergmann 1911,,,
Even though the movie was 1909.

Aarond

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Old October 20, 2014, 04:57 PM   #6
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What do you think?
I think opening my gun cabinet would be so much less fun...
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Old October 20, 2014, 05:06 PM   #7
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I think the OP is somewhat correct in his observation. Technical details not-with-standing. If somehow a blackpowder semi auto pistol HAD been successful before 1870 or so, we may have well seen the revolver relegated to history.


Certainly they would still be around, but not in the vast configurations and models that we see through the years.
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Old October 20, 2014, 05:21 PM   #8
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If the auto would have been first, the revolver would only be used by hunters, woods bums and cheapskates like me who get tired of crawling around looking for my brass.
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Old October 20, 2014, 05:22 PM   #9
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Oh crap, would John Wayne carried a 1911 or a Glock.
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Old October 20, 2014, 06:11 PM   #10
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Fouling aside, a black powder auto pistol probably would not have been very practical since it takes the longer pressure curve of smokeless powder to reliably operate an auto pistol. Recoil-operated pistols might have worked OK, but blowbacks probably would not.

Jim
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Old October 20, 2014, 06:15 PM   #11
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still being re-invented today
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfOAMQPM7Sw

this new development looks promising as well
http://3dprint.com/15556/3d-printable-gun-revolver/

every says, yeah...well he was shooting blanks, it wouldn't hold up to ral bullets. well, there is a reason why the maker is in jail, notice the recoil in all his youtube vids. his first vids didn't have any recoil because he was actually using blanks, seems like he took it to the next level already
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Old October 20, 2014, 06:31 PM   #12
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anyone else laugh when he was shooting blanks and moving his whole body? He looked ridiculous.
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Old October 20, 2014, 06:36 PM   #13
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He looked ridiculous.
Yeah, he could have at least put in just a little muzzle lift.
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Old October 20, 2014, 06:44 PM   #14
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I just went to imfdb.org and looked at the pistol used in the movie Big Jake,,,
For some reason I thought they used a borshardt,,,
But it was supposed to be a Bergmann 1911,,,
Even though the movie was 1909.


That was addressed in the actual movie - If I recall correctly, John Wayne's character raises this exact point and the reply is that it's a pre-production model.
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Old October 20, 2014, 07:31 PM   #15
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I believe the actual firearm prop was a p-38 with some sheet metal screwded to it..
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Old October 20, 2014, 07:45 PM   #16
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This is a bit like the chicken came before the egg.

The egg is simpler, more nutritious, but it's not as good as a chicken.

I do believe the revolver would have died off rather quickly if a reliably, mass produced semi auto pistol was made back in 1836 when Colt made the Paterson, but perhaps not.

But considering revolvers were still common for police use up into the early 1990s, to me if anything... the semi-auto is the aberattion!

PS: Please see above for "chicken came before the egg."

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Old October 20, 2014, 08:31 PM   #17
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I have always read that semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms weren't really feasible before the advent of self-contained ammunition and smokeless powder. The original Colts were not only black powder, they were also cap and ball. If someone could make a functional cap and ball semi-auto, I for one would be extremely impressed.
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Old October 20, 2014, 08:39 PM   #18
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In order for a magazine fed semi automatic pistol to have been made around the time of Sam Colt's invention, we would have needed at least a rim fire cartridge....the 22 short didn't show up until 1857 or so.

The 22 CB cap came before it, but was essentially a lead ball on top of a 22 short case with nothing but priming compound to propel it. Not really a serious defensive weapon.

Possibly, a variation of the original Gatling gun cartridge, a reloadable steel cylinder filled with black powder beneath the bullet and an attached percussion primer would have worked, but would have to be engineered to feed the smaller weapon.

How about a Webley Fossbury automatic revolver instead lol
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Old October 20, 2014, 11:54 PM   #19
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It's kind of ironic that people tend to think of revolvers as "old" and semi-automatics as "new" because the the semi-automatic pistol and the DA revolver as we know it today were developed concurrently.

The first semi-automatic pistol was, of course the C93 Borchardt in 1893, the first commercially successful semi-auto pistol was arguably the C96 Mauser "Broomhandle" in 1896, and the first semi-auto to be adopted by a major military power was the Luger in 1900. The first semi-auto to incorporate most of the features that we see in "modern" semi-autos today such as short-recoil operation, detachable magazines housed in the grip, and a reciporocating slide in place of a toggle or bolt was arguably the Colt Model 1900 which would later be refined into the Colt Gov't Model in 1911.

By comparison, Colt introduced the first swing-out cylinder DA revolver in 1889 and S&W introduced their first such revolver in 1896. S&W introduced their Military & Police revolver in 1899 which, with only minor modification, continues on production to the present. Likewise, Colt introduced the first large-frame, swing-out cylinder DA revolver, the New Service, in a number of bigbore chamberings such as .45 Long Colt, .44-40, and .38-40 in 1898 and S&W followed suit with their New Century "Triple Lock" revolver in 1907.

Honestly, the vast majority of innovation in handguns since the 1930's has been in manufacturing methods and materials such as stainless steel, aluminum, polymers, and exotic metals such as scandium and aluminum. Most of the features that we see on "modern" guns such as DA semi-autos, double-column magazines, and striker-fired handguns date back to the 30's or before though those features weren't necessarily combined in one weapon until later.

As to the hypothetical of semi-autos predating revolvers, that's pretty much a fantasy. As has been mentioned, it would be extremely difficult to make a semi-auto that would function reliably with black powder and nearly impossible to make one that would work without self-contained metallic cartridges. About the closest thing to cap and ball ammunition that could possibly be used in a semi-auto would be the "rocket ball" caseless cartridges used in the Volcanic lever-action pistol, but that idea proved to be less than perfect in a manually-operated firearm much less in a self-loading one.
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Old October 21, 2014, 01:15 AM   #20
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Quote:
Revolvers can handle loads and cartridges that semi's cannot,
Sorry to disagree, but I don't see this as being true. There is nothing you can shoot out of a revolver (and I'm talking about fixed ammunition, not cap & ball) that cannot be fired out of a semi auto design.

Now, if you are going to talk about specific guns, then there is some truth to that statement, but as a general and absolute statement, it's simply false.

IF you adjust the history of chemistry, so that "modern" smokeless powder was developed at the same time as self contained cartridges, THEN, you have a viable possibility of developing the semi auto at the same time as cartridge revolvers.

Black powder simply does not have the right pressure curve to operate the normal designs of semi auto actions. AND, blackpowder gets the guns very HOT, in a very small number of shots. More so, than smokeless.

You might be able to make a functional semi auto shooting black powder using the long recoil action system. Might be manageable in a rifle, and I think would be in a crew served weapon, if the design also made allowances for the fouling and for cooling. I don't see a practical way to do that in a handgun.

Also, consider this, how long it took the world's militaries to switch from the revolver to the semi auto pistol. And how much longer it took police agencies. Despite the fact that there were 'reliable" semi autos for many, many years, revolvers held sway for a long time, and not simply because they were traditional.
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Old October 21, 2014, 04:19 AM   #21
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Sorry to disagree, but I don't see this as being true. There is nothing you can shoot out of a revolver (and I'm talking about fixed ammunition, not cap & ball) that cannot be fired out of a semi auto design.
Semi's require a certain amount of recoil to cycle the action, and are finicky about what they will feed

My 44 revolver will shoot shot loads, plastic bullets powered just by a primer, and 300 gr "bear killer " loads, all in one cylinder, and never hesitate

I could even fire 6 blanks with no malfunctions

Maybe a "specialty" semi could be made for each of those, but there are none that could handle them all interchangably
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Old October 21, 2014, 06:55 AM   #22
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I think the OP's question was what if the semi had come along sooner, not which one was more versatile?
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Old October 21, 2014, 07:15 AM   #23
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Fouling aside, a black powder auto pistol probably would not have been very practical since it takes the longer pressure curve of smokeless powder to reliably operate an auto pistol. Recoil-operated pistols might have worked OK, but blowbacks probably would not.
Some years back, for amusement, my brother and I loaded about 50 .45ACP rounds with Pyrodex. We shot them through his Springfield 1911, and my Ruger P-90. It was filthy, and smokey (and fun), but both guns fired, cycled and fed new rounds reliably fine for the (short) duration of our test.
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Old October 21, 2014, 09:14 AM   #24
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If semi autos had been invented first, I believe we would be shooting sci fi laser guns by now.
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Old October 21, 2014, 09:24 AM   #25
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hard for me to visualize a semiauto with out a self contained cartridge. May be I am missing the point? That would be been pretty crazy, still trying to wrap my head around the idea.

I think that the revolver would have been a minor note in history and that most handgun hunters would be using big bore single shots or double barrel pistols. But that's just my guess. Perhaps automags would have been much more popular and that is what people would use to hunt with.
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