Pocket Rifles – The Origin of .22 LR

STEVENS-22-25-32-Rim-Fire-Bicycle-Rifle

Have you ever wondered about the origin of the .22 LR? Have you ever wanted a small, utility rifle for bicycle or pocket carry? It turns out those two subjects are related:

The New Model Pocket Rifle (First Issue) was the same basic design as the Old Model Pocket Rifle, but was larger and had a heavier barrel to handle the bigger .32 caliber rimfire cartridge. It became far more popular than the old model and outsold it by a wide margin. It was only manufactured for three years though, between 1872-1875, after which it was replaced by the New Model Pocket Rifle (Second Issue) model, which was sold from 1875-1896
The second issue model mounted the firing pin in the frame rather than the hammer, as a safety feature. In 1887, a version that fired the .22 Long Rifle (also known as .22 LR) rimfire cartridge was manufactured for the first time. The .22 LR cartridge was also invented by the Stevens Arms and Tools Company and is still the most popular cartridge in the world today (almost every major firearm manufacturer in the world has made at least one product that fires .22 LR).
When separated into two pieces (the pocket rifle and the stock), each piece measured between 18 to 24 inches (46-61cm.), which meant they could be stowed in a long coat pocket. Weight of the larger caliber models was around 5 to 5.75 lbs. (2.2 – 2.6 kg.) and the lighter models up to .32 caliber only weighed about 2 – 2.75 lbs. (0.9-1.25 kg.) The barrels were offered in a variety of lengths: 10 inches, 12 inches, 15 inches or 18 inches (25 cm., 30 cm., 38 cm. or 46 cm.)

The rifles that Firearms History, Technology & Development describe are similar to the Chiappa Little Badger of today: They represent a small, foldable package of that most useful of firearms: “A Gun”. Despite its shortcomings as a weapon, I’ve heavily considered for my own use the Little Badger and other guns like it; they offer me a way to carry a rifle without appearing to carry a rifle, and in my mind that is worth a lot.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Tassiebush

    good topic! I could find very regular use for one of these pocket rifles, the little badger or a marbles game getter for that matter. I didn’t realize that the most practical little cartridge, the.22lr was first fielded in this most practical of guns.
    I have a sudden compulsion to drop into my dealer and see what the pricing on the little badger is.

    • wetcorps

      I’ve seen them ranging from 150 to 200. Considering one as well.

  • Don Ward

    Gun owners of the late 19th Century were crazy over pocket pistols or any other concealable firearm. This is me just thumbnail painting here but for every full size Colt Peacemaker, there were ten times the number of pocket pistols sold. It was a different time with different cultural mores.

  • FWIW: The .22 LR was developed by UMC on behest of Stevens. It is one of the many cartridges credited to UMC’s William Morgan Thomas.

  • gunsandrockets

    Big pockets!

  • I believe that these existed in .22 Short before there even was such a thing as .22 Long Rifle.

    • Chase Buchanan

      Wikipedia says .22 Short was produced in 1857, and .22 Long was produced in 1871. I wonder if they still called it Short before 1871.

      • jcitizen

        From what I read it was developed for the US market by UMC for the first S&W pistol, and has been referred to as such every since. The 1st .22 rimfire rounds were made in France and of various designs and nomenclature.

        I’ve always loved the CB cap, short, and sub-sonic long rifle cartridges for their silence in my “special” rifle. All you need to get around the silencer law is to buy a perfectly legal 22 rifle with a piston gas powered chamber to shoot anything from .22 CB cap to bird shot successfully on semi-auto. This piston chamber, whose design name I’ve forgotten, takes all the sound out of the report, and all you hear is the bullet wizzing down range and the action with ping of ejected cartridge case being expelled. It is literally quieter than a air powered pellet gun!

        • Tassiebush

          Do you mean David Marshall Williams floating chamber?

          • jcitizen

            Ach! That was the name “floating chamber”! I did not know “Carbine Willams” developed that! The only difference to many references to this, is that these were Mossberg, Remington, and other older rifles that were sold with this capability. I have never tested other products designed for caliber conversion. I always wanted to try a Mitchell Arms copy of the High Standard .22 cal auto pistol though. It would have been neat just to have a pistol that could shoot almost any .22 ammo!

          • Tassiebush

            I just looked that up. seems a common example was/is the remington 550-1. Remington called it a power piston. A most interesting concept that sounds very practical. Especially back when .22 shorts, long and cb caps were more common. Great to hear that it absorbs noise like that!

          • jcitizen

            I used to live in a community that was so back woods it wasn’t illegal to shoot guns inside the city limits. I lived in a cabin that was subject to so many types of vermin, that I regularly dispatched them without disturbing my neighbors. It was great to have that option, because my pellet gun was horribly noisy, and I didn’t want to alarm anyone who was trying to sleep! My poor kitty appreciated it too; because she wouldn’t have survived without me!

          • Tassiebush

            That gun sounds really handy! I’m a tad jealous because semi autos are heavily restricted here (Tasmania, Australia) and even though there would have been that model before they’d either be melted down by our neurotic govt or extremely obscure black market items now. I very much appreciate the usefulness of handy quiet guns though. There are a lot of places where people aren’t supposed to shoot due to a 250m exclusion zone from roads and you need owner permission to do so within 250m of dwellings plus we have heaps of self appointed anti gun fun police who seem emotionally invested in every critter so discretion helps. While all of this is frustrating, immoral and inconvenient there is a kind of unique pleasure in doing it under their noses.

          • jcitizen

            Sorry to hear that! Perhaps there would be a way to get a gun smith to make a single shot version for you, if that would be legal, that is. It would have to have auto eject so the sound suppression would work, but it could only be fired once that way. It wouldn’t be much more trouble than using many air rifles. There are some air rifles I wouldn’t feel safe using in urban environments, as they are even more powerful than a .22 Long Rifle cartridge!

          • Tassiebush

            Yeah it’d be legal on an auto ejecting single shot. Hmm and if that was made to hinge so it was foldable at the front of the action it’d be a quiet pocket rifle.

          • jcitizen

            Not sure that would be safe; however Numerich Arms has some of the Remington and other brands of piston chambers for sale. If you could find a gunsmith that had an old broken down version of one of the rifles, he could easily build it into a single shot. All he would have to do is permanently block any magazine entry into the receiver. Of course I don’t know what your laws say about modifying original designs into something else; but here in the US it is a piece of cake.

          • Tassiebush

            unfortunately the laws here ban the possession of parts of prohibited guns and the govt also didn’t allow the conversion of semi auto guns to straightpulls, pumps etc.
            The current work around i use is long barrel and mild loads. stuff like CCI quiet .22lr is airgun like in noise and I find my 24inch rossi .357mag/.383pec shoots with similar noise to a high velocity .22lr using .38 special cowboy loads.

          • jcitizen

            Interesting – I don’t suppose they’d let one modify an ordinary bolt gun into an auto-eject. It would be tricky getting the bolt weight, ignition, and spring correct. The new sub-sonic ammo helps a lot – I like the Remingtion ammo I’ve tried. I didn’t know CCI had any in .22lr size.

            I have a Rossi “Mare’s leg” in 44 mag, that is my favorite toy for now; I used .44 special ammo so I can get more rounds in the tube for one loading. I like the 44 special better anyway – it has been my favorite pistol cartridge since I was a boy. Thanks for the discussion – it is all fascinating to me!

          • Tassiebush

            That Mares Leg sounds like great fun! I’ve got a 16″ barreled Taurus pump action .22lr and it is extremely handy. I often use the CCI quiet loads in it. Similar noise to .22shorts. I often contemplate getting a 92 trapper in .38/.357. If a slightly longer stock was placed on the mares leg bringing it to over 65cm then it’d be legal as is for hunting here.
            I think converting a bolt action that way would be legal enough so long as it was more or less not convertible to semi. I enjoy these discussions too! 🙂

          • jcitizen

            Aaahh! Trombone 22s! There’s nothing like it, and prairie dog hunting! Great memories! Have a good day!

  • Dave The Great

    “… that most useful of firearms: “A Gun”.”

    I love the way that phrase was crafted. +++

  • iksnilol

    Makes me miss the days when jackets and coats had internal pockets (and big pockets at that) by default. Now I have to buy from a tailor if I want what should be already included. Like having to buy a bolt for a rifle. But that was a digression or something, back on topic; I like the sights on it, kinda want a modern version that is integrally suppressed. Maybe if I used a bolt action as a basis?

  • Phil Elliott

    Still have a Hamilton #7, which was listed as a “Bicycle Rifle”. it is in .22 Short. The inital price when my Grandmother acquired it was $4.50 thru sale of White Cloverine salve going door to door.

    • Tassiebush

      Those Hamilton 7 rifles are quirky little guns! I think these days they’d be called Saturday morning specials! I have posted a link so folks can see what one looks like.
      http://www.peashooter85.com/image/33046668783

  • Don Ward

    The only logical step is to recreate the sport of Bicycle gun shooting, with different classes ranging from new-fangled mountain bikes, BMX and old-fashioned high-wheelers.

    • Chase Buchanan

      Hear hear!

    • Jeff Suever

      Agreed. Biathalon without the $&#*@ cold and snow.

  • Fruitbat44

    Interesting little piece of firearms history. I’m idling speculating if it was called a Bicycle Rifle because bicycles were at the cutting edge of technology back then? Or at least the latest fashion.

    • iksnilol

      Or because you could carry it on your bicycle?

  • Tassiebush

    French Hunter, great examples and explanations of the dog problem. Certainly the sort of problem that requires a solution. I actually witnessed a dog attack by a German Shepherd only a few days back and with such a fresh example in mind I can certainly imagine what things were like in France at that time.
    I disagree about it being the one and only reason although in a French context it may be a more valid point. I’d say there were actually two niches of bicycle firearm. There were guns like those which you mentioned and also the Velo Dog revolvers which were aimed at dog defence but bicycle guns like in this article were hunting focused as much as anything else. While being called bicycle guns they were really just aimed at being handily sized. Hunting today for many is a deliberate activity which most of us drive to. Back then with quite different rules and transport options a fair bit of hunting was opportunistic. My grandfather used to carry a revolver on his motorbike for roadside shooting of rabbits.

    • sianmink

      Also bicycles were pretty fashionable in the day, so throwing out that connection would be a pretty big marketing plus.

  • Tassiebush

    Ah that’d be from the link awaiting approval from a moderator! Good link BTW. What an interesting gun that is!

  • Tassiebush

    nice!

  • sianmink

    “Have you ever wanted a small, utility rifle for bicycle or pocket carry?”
    Yes but the NFA says that’s too dangerous for the general public.