Q: I was watching Clint Eastwood in “Magnum Force” (1973), and in one scene he loads his S&W Model 29 with a speedloader. This is the earliest I can remember seeing a revolver charged with all six rounds at once. It got me to thinking, how far back does the speedloader go?
A: Although a speedloader was devised by William H. Bell in 1879, the best-known early charger was patented in 1893 by British archaeologist and antiquarian William de Courcy Prideaux with his “Rapid Reloading Device for Revolvers.”
Intended for use with the top-break Webleys of the period, it held six rounds of .455 ammunition in steel fingers. After the revolver had been broken open, the user pushed downward on a sliding plate and the cartridges were stripped off into the cylinder’s awaiting chambers.
In 1914, Prideaux improved his design to include a crosspiece on the “thrust plate” to make handling easier. Prideaux’s “magazine loader” saw considerable use in the Great War and beyond. It was available in both .455 and .38, and could also be used with .455 S&W and Colt revolvers with swing-out cylinders.
As well as the speedloader, Prideaux invented a disintegrating machine gun belt.