Although gunsmiths had experimented with breech-loading cannon and small arms almost since the invention of firearms, it was not until c.1870 that practical breech-loading firearms came into general use. By the 1880s magazine loading, smokeless powder, and the bolt action had also been developed in Europe and the United States and were in general use in military small arms.
Although the earliest examples of the revolver date from the second half of the 16th cent., and a usable multifiring weapon of the pistol type, called the "pepperbox," appeared in the first quarter of the 19th cent., it was not until Samuel Colt patented his revolving pistol that the revolver won a place as one of the world's standard small arms. Colt's weapon was a pistol with a revolving cylinder, capable of firing several shots without reloading. The revolver and the magazine-loading rifle were the standard small arms throughout the world in the last part of the 19th cent. until the invention of automatic firearms shortly before 1900.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.