Colt-Berdan I: Russia’s First Military Cartridge Rifle

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In 1867, a Russian delegation came to the United States to source new small arms for the Czar. In addition to purchasing Gatling guns, they met with Hiram Berdan and agreed to purchase a trapdoor single shot rifle he had designed. Berdan had been very active in the years immediately after the Civil War trying to sell breechloading conversions to any interested party, from New York to Egypt. The design that the Russians agreed on was a purpose-built single shot rifle instead of a conversion, chambered for the slightly bottlenecked .42 Berdan cartridge and using an in-line striker instead of the side hammer more common to trapdoor conversions.

Colt would produce 30,000 of these Model 1868 Berdan rifles for export to Russia, with the first example ready in December 1868 and bulk deliveries running from March 1869 until May 1870. Berdan himself immediately set about improving his design, and sold the result to the same Russian delegation in 1870.This was a single shot turnabout action, commonly referred to as the Berdan II.

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