The “Navy” term didn’t come because the US Navy adopted the model; it came because the roll-engraved scene on its cylinder depicted a naval battle. The scene showed a battle that took place in the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 1843, between ships of the navies of the Republic of Texas and Mexico. The “Navy” term became so synonymous with the belt pistol it became commonly called “Colt’s Navy” and .36 was often simply referred to as “Navy caliber.”

Sam Colt gladly accepted custom orders so original belt pistols can be found in a wide variety of finishes and barrel lengths. Yet the quintessential Navy Colt had a 7½" octagonal barrel, blued barrel and cylinder, color case-hardened frame, hammer and loading lever and a grip frame of nickel-plated brass. Grips were 1-piece wood, but many Navy Colts wore custom ivory grips. Early ones had a square back triggerguard. Shortly into production, that was changed to a roomier oval type. Weight was only about 2½ pounds, making it perfectly feasible to wear on a belt and quickly accessible when needed. Of course, the mode of fire was single-action-only.