1814, Hartford, CT
1862, Hartford, CT
In the time it took to ram a charge and a lead ball down the barrel of a single shot rifle, Comanche Indians could shoot six arrows or run 150 yards with spear and tomahawk.
Photos: (left) Connecticut Historical Society; (right) Connecticut State Library
A Mass Market
He invented a gun that fired multiple times without reloading, advanced manufacturing, and created a mass market. The Colt revolver was a godsend to Western settlers -- and the ultimate threat to Plains Indians.
Interest in Guns
In the nineteenth century, Sam Colt's name was synonymous with his revolving-breech pistol, a weapon that was said to have "won the West." The second youngest of seven children, Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut on July 19, 1814. A confident, even reckless boy, he showed an early interest in explosions and weapons. While on a voyage to India as an apprentice sailor, young Colt designed an innovative gun with an automatic, revolving chamber.
In 1835, Colt took out his first patent and founded the Patent Arms Company in Paterson, New Jersey. His pistol was different from others; its design allowed several shots to be fired in succession without reloading. A single-shot weapon took 20 seconds to reload -- a dangerous interval, especially for frontiersmen and soldiers fighting Indians who could fire six arrows in that time. Army officers used Colt's weapon in the 1830s, but production defects prevented widespread approval of the firearm. Colt would resolve to improve manufacturing, and by 1848 his guns would be safer.
Colt received a boost in sales during the Texas Revolution and the Mexican American War. His weapons contributed to the U.S. Army's success, and to the resulting westward expansion of American territory. A Texas Ranger, Captain Samuel Walker, wrote Colt a testimonial that read, in part:"Your pistols...[are] the most perfect weapon in the World... to keep the various warlike tribes of Indians and marauding Mexicans in subjection."
Building a Legend
Throughout the 1850s, Colt continued to make improvements on his now famous Colt revolvers. His operation became a model of precision manufacturing, automation, and process integration. He saw the value of myth-making; he marketed his gun as an essential part of the American frontier, working to promote his brand and build his market. In addition to the military, his customers included Forty-Niners heading to the Gold Rush; migrating settlers; Texas cowboys; and lawmen on the nation's western frontier. His slogans included,"God created men equal, Col. Colt made them equal..." Colt died a year after the Civil War broke out, at the young age of forty-six, having never fired a gun at another person.