Gallery: Most Influential Handguns of All Time

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Colt SAA 1873

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The Colt Single Action Army (SAA) brought the repeating handgun to the masses. It was designed to operate in a similar fashion to Colt’s previous blackpowder models, but unlike Colt conversions of blackpowder guns that were available starting in 1871, the 1873 was designed from the ground-up to handle cartridges. The design worked very well, and the 1873 became a symbol of America’s westward expansion. Soldiers, lawmen and criminals carried it, and it’s one of the few guns that have had a significant influence on popular culture. Functionally, the gun remains the cornerstone for the design of almost all new single-action revolvers and lent heavily to the design aesthetic of the modern double-action revolver.

We trace the lineage of today’s top pistols and revolvers to determine which firearms helped shape our modern conception of what a handgun should be.


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There are a wide variety of different handguns on the market today, everything from ultra-compact mini-revolvers to sophisticated semi-auto race guns. But if you look at the DNA of most modern guns, you’ll see that the vast majority trace their lineage back to some common ancestors. Sure, all have different features and specifications, but the history of these great guns is visible in virtually every modern handgun offered for sale today.

Still, it’s hard to pick just 10 firearms that helped shaped our understanding of what a handgun should be. You can trace the history of firearms back for centuries to a time when primitive powder ignited a flash of flame and an idea that would change the history of humankind and the trajectory of the world as we know it. But for our intents and purposes, we’ll stick to guns of the modern smokeless powder era, those from the mid-nineteenth century and forward.

That’s still not a short list, and picking guns that deserve a spot isn’t easy. It’s sometimes hard to judge the influence a gun has on other models; sometimes, it’s a matter of mechanical design, sometimes aesthetics, and sometimes it’s caliber, capacity or some nuance that could easily go unnoticed. So, above are our picks for the 10 most influential handguns of the modern era.


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3 COMMENTS

  1. Have owned all except the Glock and the Judge. They are not to my liking but based on sales and the number of competing products it’s hard to argue their impact.

    I would question Mr. Fitzpatrick’s selection of the S&W J-Frame. As far as a small-frame, .38 Special snubbie goes, the influential one is the Colt Detective Special introduced in 1927 and based on the 1908 Colt Police Positive Special. The J-frame is a derivative of the old-1896 Hand Ejector I-frame Smith but it didn’t hit the market until 1950. The I-frame, which was smaller than the J, couldn’t handle the pressure of the .38 Special and the maximum cartridge was the .32 S&W.

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