287,293 Pages

Rollin White
Born Rollin White
(1817-06-06)June 6, 1817
Williamstown, Vermont, United States
Died March 22, 1892(1892-03-22) (aged 74)
Lowell, Massachusetts
Occupation Inventor, gunsmith

Rollin White (June 6, 1817 – March 22, 1892) was an American gunsmith who invented a revolver with a bored-through cylinder that allowed cartridges to be loaded from the rear.

Early life[edit | edit source]

White was born in Williamstown, Vermont in 1818. He learned gunsmithing from his older brother, J. D. White in 1837. He would later claim that the idea for a "rear-loading" Pepper-box revolver came to him while working in his brother's shop in 1839. In 1849 he went to work for Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company as a gunsmith under contract, turning revolver barrels on a lathe. During this time he procured two "junk" revolver cylinders from Colt and placed them in his barrel lathe, cutting the front off one and the rear off the other. He assembled these parts into a single bored-through cylinder that would fit in a Colt revolver.[1]

Rollin White patent[edit | edit source]

Smith & Wesson .32 rimfire 'model 1½' pocket pistol manufactured 1865-1868 under Rollin White's patent

Remington Conversion

Remington Conversion, Rollin White Patent April 3. 1855 inscribed on cylinder

Up until that time, revolvers were black-powder percussion arms. The shooter had to pour powder into each of the six cylinder mouths, push a bullet over the powder, and load a percussion cap on the rear of the cylinder, making the reloading process cumbersome.

Rollin White's famous patent did not invent the cartridge revolver (which had already been patented in Europe), nor the Smith & Wesson revolver, but a bizarre contraption involving both a cylinder and a box magazine.[2] The proposed type of cartridge to be used is not described in detail but it must have been combustible (perhaps a paper cartridge) since there is no provision for extraction or ejection of spent cases. It seems the pistol was to be fired by percussion caps placed on one single nipple. Capping by hand would have been a very slow process defeating the whole point of the rest of the invention; an automated priming device such as a Maynard tape primer may have been appropriate but is not mentioned.

It was, however, the first US patent to include the useful improvement of a cylinder bored all the way through so that cartridges could be inserted from the rear, and herein lay its importance.[3]

For the next three years, White worked on his idea while at Colt's, where his contract was now to cut rifling and polish the bores of revolver barrels. White went through various loads and filler material to enable his revolver to work. White was warned by other employees and contractors against approaching Colt with an "improvement" to his revolver design, saying Colt was known for firing workers or cancelling the contracts of employees who suggested design alterations. Despite these warnings, he took his idea to the president of the company, Samuel Colt, in 1852 when he perfected it, but Colt dismissed it as a novelty. Colt subsequently granted White a contract to manufacture the lockwork of revolvers.[4]

In December 1854, Colt stopped the process of manufacturing by contract and White was no longer employed by Colt. White filed his patent on April 3, 1855 in Hartford, Connecticut, as patent number 12,648: Improvement in Repeating Fire-arms.[5] On November 17, 1856 White signed an agreement with Smith and Wesson for the exclusive use of his patent. The contract stipulated that White would be paid 25 cents for every revolver, but that it was up to him to defend his patent against infringement as opposed to Smith & Wesson.[6]

After the Smith & Wesson revolver came on the market, White began production of a revolver of his own in 1861 in a factory in Lowell, Massachusetts called "Rollin White Arms Company". Approximately 4300 revolvers were made under Rollin White Arms, most of which were sold to Smith & Wesson to keep up with demand. White liquidated the company in 1864 and the assets were bought by Lowell Arms Company, which began manufacturing revolvers directly infringing on White's patent. White sued them, but not until after they had made 7500 revolvers.[7]

Patent infringement cases brought by White were common, including those against Manhattan Firearms Company, Ethan Allen, Merwin & Bray, National Arms Company, William Irvingdisambiguation needed and others. The courts mostly sided with White, but allowed these manufacturers to continue production runs, with a royalty paid to White. In some cases, Smith & Wesson bought the guns back to remark and sell; such guns are marked "APRIL 3 1855" as a patent date.[8]

Rollin White Relief Act[edit | edit source]

Taking a lesson from Colt who had obtained patent extensions for his revolvers, White sought to extend the patent on his idea. The initial request was denied. White filed another extension which came about as a bill that went through the US Congress entitled An act for the relief of Rollin White (S.273) on the grounds that he had not been fairly compensated for his invention which he had sold to Smith & Wesson. White pointed out that he had made $71,000 whereas Smith & Wesson earned over $1 million for his idea. Furthermore White pointed out that the bulk of his earnings was spent on litigation as others infringed on his idea.[9]

The bill passed both houses of congress with no debate, but was vetoed by President Ulysses S. Grant on 11 January 1870 who returned it to the Senate without his signature with the following statement: "To the Senate of the United States: I return herewith without my approval Senate bill No. 273, entitled An act for the relief of Rollin White, for the reasons set forth in the accompanying communication, dated December 11, 1869 from the Chief of Ordinance Alexander Brydie Dyer."[10]

Dyer's objection was on the grounds that White holding on to his patent during the American Civil War served as "an inconvenience and embarrassment" to Union forces for the "inability of manufacturers to use this patent". Dyer went on to write that "its further extension will operate prejudicially to its interests by compelling it to pay to parties already well paid a large royalty for altering its revolvers to use metallic cartridges."[10]

Other works[edit | edit source]

White invented the knife-edge breech block and self-cocking device for the "box-lock" Model 1851 Sharps rifle. These rifles were built by White, Christian Sharps, and Richard Lawrence at Robbins & Laurence in Windsor, Vermont. White later designed a self-cocking mechanism for the 1855 pattern Sharps and built 50 of these rifles for a potential US Navy contract, but the Navy only purchased 12 of them.[11]

Rollin White died in Lowell, Massachusetts on March 22, 1892.[12]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Allen, Ethan (1863). "Deposition of Rollin White". Circuit court of the United States,Massachusetts district: In equity. For complainants: E. W. Stoughton, C. M. Keller, E. F. Hodges. For respondents: B. R. Curtis, Caustin Browne. pp. 187–193. 
  2. Winant, Lewis (1959). Early Percussion Firearms. Great Britain: Herbert Jenkins Ltd. pp. 145–146. ISBN 0-600-33015-X. 
  3. Walter, John (2006). The Guns That Won the West: Firearms on the American Frontier, 1848–1898. MBI Publishing Company. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-85367-692-5. 
  4. Boorman, Dean K. (2004). Guns of the Old West: An Illustrated History. Lyons Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-59228-638-6. 
  5. Ware, Donald L. (2007). Remington army and navy revolvers, 1861–1888. UNM Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-8263-4280-5. 
  6. Jinks, Roy G.; Sandra C. Krein (2006). Smith & Wesson Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-7385-4510-3. 
  7. Flayderman, Norm (2001). Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms ... and their values. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. p. 213. ISBN 0-87349-313-3. 
  8. Walter (2006)p.108
  9. Satterlee (1940) p. 151
  10. 10.0 10.1 Grant, US (1897). James Daniel Richardson. ed. A compilation of the messages and papers of the presidents, prepared under the Joint Committee on Printing of the House and Senate, pursuant to an act of the Fifty-second Congress of the United States (with additions and encyclopedic index by private enterprise). 9. Bureau of National Literature. pp. 4034–4035. 
  11. Walter, John (2007). Rifles of the World (3 ed.). Krause Publications. pp. 437–438. ISBN 978-0-89689-241-5. 
  12. Satterlee, Leroy De Forest; Arcadi Gluckman (1940). American gun makers. O. Ulbrich. p. 95. 

External links[edit | edit source]

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.