A funny thing happened in 1878. A sleek, futuristic single-shot rifle offering breeching strength beyond the needs of the day’s cartridges debuted just as the repeating rifle was brushing them aside in military and civilian arms decisions. Then a large-frame double-action revolver presaged the next 100 years of outdoorsman’s arms by cleverly combining old dependable technology with refreshing new concepts of combat firepower. The former witnessed the end of the Sharps Rifle Co., while the latter was another step in the continuing dominance of the Colt Patent Firearms Co. into the 20th century.
By the time the Sharps Model of 1878 was presented to the world’s militaries, the end of the single-shot rifle as a military arm was in progress, closely followed by civilian preferences. Scottish-born American inventor James Paris Lee’s turn-bolt with a detachable box magazine was turning heads and would become the famously successful Lee Enfield. The Lee rifle was unable to save the Sharps Rifle Co. from bankruptcy, the company Lee initially chose as manufacturer. Elsewhere, European militaries were developing or had repeating rifles in service.
On the civilian side, Eli Whitney and Andrew Burgess heralded the big-bore lever action with the Model 1878 Burgess in .45-70 Gov’t. Although it was a dud, Andrew Burgess’s next invention — the Marlin Model 1881 in .45-70 — really set the American hunting scene on fire, further marginalizing the single shot.