February 16, 2011
When discussing American single-shot rifles, most people immediately mention the Sharps, but the Remington rolling block was just as popular.
The rolling block design is strong and simple, and while the U.S. military eschewed it in favor of the trapdoor Springfield, the gun caught on elsewhere.
On January 3, 1865, an Ohio gunsmith named Joseph Rider patented a strong, simple breechloader that incorporated only four moving parts in its action. Utilizing a central hammer, a "rolling" (backward pivoting) breechblock containing the firing pin opened the chamber. The breechblock locked when it was closed, then the shooter cocked the hammer to fire. Opening the breechblock extracted the case.
Rider contracted with E. Remington & Sons of Ilion, New York, to produce the rifle, which became known as the Remington System. The "rolling block" nomenclature was never officially used but became a popular nickname that survives today.
The U.S. Army shunned the Remington rolling block in favor of the weaker trapdoor Springfield, but other governments--including Mexico, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, France and China--embraced it. Able to digest both blackpowder and subsequent smokeless cartridges, it rapidly became a favorite of buffalo hunters as well as long-range target shooters.
More than 1 million rolling block military rifles, carbines and pistols were produced between 1867 and 1888. The rolling block was finally discontinued in 1933. Today, the rolling block is still available on special-order from Remington, and excellent replicas are offered by firms such as Cimarron Fire Arms, Dixie Gun Works and A. Uberti.