Samuel Colt Biography (1814-1862)


Samuel Colt, born near Hartford, Connecticut in 1814, Colt was shipped off tosea by his father. While on board, Colt noticed that the helmsman's wheel always lined up with one of its spokes through the use of a simple clutch and locking device. In 1830 his ship sailed to India, where Colt saw a repeating pistol invented by Bostonian Elisha Collier. On his return voyage, Colt combined the mechanism of the helmsman's wheel with the idea of a repeating pistoland developed his Colt " revolver ."

Colt used a pawl mechanism to rotate the cylinder that held the bullets. Thecylinder was locked into place by cocking the hammer. Colt was in his teens at the time, and his design was so simple that he whittled a wooden model while still on board ship. In 1832 Colt returned to the United States with plansto manufacture his pistol.

In 1836 Colt received a patent for his revolver and opened the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company in Paterson, New Jersey. (He had received patents from both France and Britain a year earlier). The country was at peace at this time,and there was little enthusiasm for a rapid -fire weapon. The U.S. Army bought a few of Colt's weapons for use in its war against the Seminoles in Florida; the Texas Rangers also purchased several of Colt's pistols. But due to poor sales, the company was unable to purchase the sophisticated machine tools necessary to produce the weapons cheaply, and the company went bankrupt in 1842. Colt abandoned the arms business and turned his ingenuity to such pursuitsas perfecting underwater mines and laying an underwater telegraph line fromNew York City to Fire Island and Coney Island.

In 1846 the Mexican-American War changed Colt's fortunes. Colt's revolvers saved the life of the lone survivor of an early battle in the war. When the survivor, Captain Thornton, told his superiors of the value of Colt's weapon, the Army ordered a thousand of the revolvers. Although Colt had no factory, heaccepted the order and obtained the services of Eli Whitney and Whitney's arms factory at Whitneyville, Connecticut, to help him meet the Army's order. Two years later, with the help of New England's finest mechanic, Elisha King Root, Colt opened his own factory--the Colt Patent Arms plant in Hartford, Connecticut. Together Colt and Root created the first modern assembly line, utilizing parts machined so accurately that they were interchangeable and requiredlittle hand finishing.

Colt vigorously defended his patents against competition from other arms manufacturers and, due to his success, he enjoyed a virtual monopoly on arms sales. By 1855 Colt was the largest arms manufacturer in the world--his Hartfordfactory alone housed 1,400 machine tools. Colt also established a factory inGreat Britain to supply the European market.

Colt's early repeating pistol--often called the "Gun that Won the West"--became only one of myriad other weapons being produced at the Hartford armory. Atthe outbreak of the American Civil War, Colt was in the enviable position ofsupplying the U.S. government with thousands of weapons. Yet he did not liveto see the end of the war; he died suddenly at the age of forty-eight in Hartford on January 10, 1862. The firearm company he founded was later integrated into a large multinational industrial conglomerate called Colt Industries which still manufactures weapons at its armory in Hartford.

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