The Sharps rifle was the first succesful breechloading rifle. Christian Sharps designed and created the Sharps rifle in the late 1840's. It was widely used in the American civil war in the 1860's and on the American fronteir.
Throughout the early 1800's the muzzleloading musket was the most common rifle. They were dependable and accuarate but very slow to load. Many gunsmiths made breechloading rifles which could load through the rear of the gun. In 1819 John Hall made his first breechloader which became known as the M1819 Hall rifle. Christian Sharps was his assistant and thought about making his own rifle. The Hall rifle did not have a tight seal making hot gases escape. In 1848 Christian Sharps made his own breechloader, it was was simpler in construction and had a much tighter seal and action. A lever would be pulled down and a paper cartridge would be inserted. The breech would be closed, the nipple would be capped and the gun could be fired.
During the 1850's the Sharps rifle became popular, competing with the Starr Carbine for becoming the United States standard carbine in 1858. Famous abolitionist John Brown used Sharps rifles when he tried to take control of the Harper's ferry. At the start of the American civil war in 1861 the Sharps rifle was widely used by both Union soldiers and Confedarates. Berdan's sharpshooters used the Sharps rifle as their main rifle. The Sharps long barreled rifle version was used in small numbers when compared with the Sharps carbine. Towards the end of the war the Spencer rifle began to replace the Sharps rifles on the battlefield but still remained popular.
After the war many Sharps rifles and carbines were converted to fire metalic cartridges. They became famous for being able to take down buffalo. Production of the rifle stopped in 1881 when the Sharps company went out of buisness.
Replica's of the gun today are made by Uberti and other gun companies.