Did Rollin White Really Invent The Bored-Through Cylinder?

The answer is yes but whether he knew the significance of his idea at the time is highly unlikely.  If you have a look at his patents and read the claims, nowhere does he emphasize that feature.  The gun he invented and ideas he patented are for a totally impractical firearm, full of levers, racks and pinions and, oh yes, by the way, a bored-through cylinder.  The patent model shows a magazine hung on side with a plunger device for charging the cylinder from the front.  There is actually a surviving rifle version of that arm in the Carl Metzgar Collection at Texas A&M University. 

It was Daniel Wesson who spotted the hidden detail and realized its golden potential.  He wrote the following letter to Rollin White:

“I notice in a patent granted to you under the date of Apr. 3, 1855 one claim =viz= extending the chambers of the rotating cylinder right through the rear end of said cylinder so as to enable the said chambers to be charged from the rear end either by hand or by means of a sliding charger operating substantially as described.  Which I would like make arrangements with you to use in the manufacture of firearms.  My object in this letter is to enquire if such an arrangement could be made and if so on what terms.  By replying to the above at your earliest convenience you note confirming at favor.

                                    I am sir yours respectfully,  D.B.Wesson”

White responded quickly and a deal was made on November 17, 1856.  In return for an exclusive license granted to Smith & Wesson, Rollin White would receive compensation of $0.25 per arm.  Unfortunately for White, there was also a clause in the contract that required he bear the expense of defending his patent against infringers.  The agreement turned out to be very expensive for White.

Even thought, in the end his patent was successfully defended against all comers (and there were several).  Any profits that White realized were offset by his legal expenses.

For the entire story, read “PATENTS, CIRCUMVENTIONS AND INFRIGEMENTS in the February 2011 issue of ARMS HERITAGE MAGAZINE, free on-line at WWW.ARMSHERITAGEMAGAZINE.COM