Manhattan Firearms Company was established by a committee of businessmen in 1856 in preparation for the expiration of Colt revolver patents upcoming in 1857. Production began immediately at the Manhattan facility in Norwich, Connecticut but by 1859, production had been moved to a new facility in Newark, New Jersey. Before the patents had officially expired, however, Manhattan busied itself with manufacture of other expired patent firearms - primarily single-shot revolvers and percussion "pepperboxes". Once the Colt patents became available for copy, the Manhattan concern moved in to cash in and delivered their version of the famous Colt Model 1851 Navy and Model 1849 Pocket revolver models.
The Manhattan versions were nearly identical to the Colt products, so much so that the Colt concern moved in with a lawsuit to prevent their production. Nevertheless, Manhattan generated some 80,000 units sold before the end of their run. The Manhattan Navy was discernable from the original Colt in that they machined extra safety notches along the cylinder which became the primary identifier throughout the years following. Manhattan guns did make an appearance in the American Civil War as did many other lesser known firearms of the time - war dictated the need for just about any viable firearm in existence and firms like Manhattan were not blind to the requirement.
Manhattan Navy revolvers mimicked much of what made Colt revolvers exquisite firearms. Lines were sharp and curved were smooth, exuding both elegance and functionality. Like Colt revolvers before it, the frame was open-topped in nature unlike competing Remingtons. The barrel was octagonal with a loading lever managed underneath the barrel, the lever actuating the integrated rammer against the cylinder chambers. The grips were covered in beautiful walnut and the cylinders unfluted and engraved like the Colts. The hammer was capped by a handy spur for management by the thumb or free hand. The curved trigger unit sat with an oblong brass trigger ring. Loading of the gunpowder and ball ammunition was through the front of the cylinder (5- or 6-shot depending on the model). Percussion caps were affixed to each chamber on the rear portion of the cylinder by hand. The hammer fell onto the cap, providing the spark needed for the ignition of the gunpowder. A front sight was added aft of the muzzle. In all, Manhattan Navy revolvers were mechanically sound, owing much to the original Colt design.
The Manhattan Navy appeared in a variety of series beginning with the original Series I of 1859 of which over 4,000 were produced. The available series were differentiated by serial numbers and available barrel lengths, measuring between 4" and 6.5". The Series II appeared in early January of 1860, numbering perhaps as many as 10,000 examples, while Series III came online in September of 1861 in approximately 30,000 examples. Series IV was first made available in April of 1864 and numbered 24,000 while the final Series V (with its tapered loading lever) appeared from June 1867 onwards in as many as 9,000 examples. Final production lasted until December 1868 of the Series V. Series I through Series IV were all five-shot revolvers while the Series V was of six-shot. All were, however, chambered for the .36 ball cartridge.
The Manhattan concern observed the government contracts being earned by competitors during the American Civil War and chose instead to own the civilian market with their guns. However, this is not to say that Manhattan copied guns were not made available to soldiers in the war, mostly through private purchase. In any case, Manhattan Navy revolvers are a true rarity today, with a decidedly few die-hards having fallen under the spell of the series.
In the post-war world, Manhattan eventually moved on to copying other gun designs including the Smith & Wesson .22 known as the Manhattan "Tip Up". All told, Manhattan production of firearms actually rivaled that of powerhouses Colt and Remington with some 175,000 examples being manufactured. Beyond the Manhattan name, its guns fell under the "London Pistol Company" and "American Standard Tool" brandings. The company officially closed its doors in 1873.