The Navy, Pocket Navy, Army, and Police Black Powder Revolvers all evolved between 1851 and 1862 from one model originally designed by Colt. By the start of the Civil War, Colt had refined the Navy into a sleek, streamlined weapon with an improved loading lever. The 1861 Navy is often acclaimed as Colt’s most handsome pistol.
The 1851 was hugely popular with soldiers and civilians alike, and was eventually adopted by the US and the British militaries. Wild Bill Hickok carried a pair of 1851 Navies, with these pistols he established the reputation of the most feared pistol arrow in the old west.
Colt redesigned the Navy pistol, making it the 1861 which was a completely new design with a streamlined barrel, side contours and an improved loading lever.
To seat black powder loads in the cylinder of the single-action army and navy revolvers, the loading lever is freed from the latch and pulled downward. This causes the ramrod to move through the frame and ram the load home.