SAMUEL COLT (July 19, 1814 – January 10, 1862) was an American inventor, industrialist, businessman, and hunter. He founded Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (today Colt\'s Manufacturing Company ) and made the mass production of the revolver commercially viable.
Colt's first two business ventures were producing firearms in
Paterson, New Jersey
Colt's manufacturing methods were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution . His use of interchangeable parts helped him become one of the first to use the assembly line efficiently. Moreover, his innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements, and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer in the fields of advertising, product placement, and mass marketing.
* 1 Early years (1814–1835) * 2 Colt\'s early revolver (1835–43) * 3 Early problems and failures * 4 Mines and tinfoil
* 5 Colt\'s Patent Manufacturing Company (1847–1860)
* 5.1 Patent extension
* 5.2 Colt\'s armories
* 5.2.1 Hartford * 5.2.2 London
* 5.3 Marketing
* 6 Later years and death * 7 Legacy * 8 Footnotes * 9 Bibliography * 10 Further reading * 11 External links
EARLY YEARS (1814–1835)
Colt coat of arms
At age 11, Colt was indentured to a farmer in Glastonbury, where he did chores and attended school. Here he was introduced to the Compendium of Knowledge, a scientific encyclopedia that he preferred to read rather than his Bible studies. Its articles on Robert Fulton and gunpowder motivated Colt throughout his life. He discovered that other inventors in the Compendium had accomplished things that were once deemed impossible, and he wanted to do the same. Later, after hearing soldiers talk about the success of the double-barreled rifle and the impossibility of a gun that could shoot five or six times without reloading, Colt decided that he would create the "impossible gun".
In 1829, at the age of 15, Colt began working in his father's textile
Ware, Massachusetts , where he had access to tools,
materials, and the factory workers' expertise. Following the
encyclopedia, Samuel built a homemade galvanic cell and advertised as
a Fourth of July event in that year that he would blow up a raft on
Ware Pond using underwater explosives; although the raft was missed,
the explosion was still impressive. Sent to boarding school, he
amused his classmates with pyrotechnics. In 1830, a July 4 accident
caused a fire that ended his schooling, and his father sent him off to
learn the seaman's trade. On a voyage to
When Colt returned to the United States in 1832, he went back to work
for his father, who financed the production of two guns, a rifle and a
pistol. The first completed pistol exploded when it was fired, but the
rifle performed well. His father would not finance any further
development, so Samuel needed to find a way to pay for the development
of his ideas. He had learned about nitrous oxide (laughing gas) from
the factory chemist in his father's textile plant, so he took a
portable lab on the road and earned a living performing laughing gas
demonstrations across the United States and Canada, billing himself as
"the Celebrated Dr. Coult of New-York, London and Calcutta". Colt
conceived of himself as a man of science and thought if he could
enlighten people about a new idea like nitrous oxide, he could in turn
make people more receptive to his new idea concerning a revolver. He
started his lectures on street corners and soon worked his way up to
lecture halls and museums. As ticket sales declined, Colt realized
that "serious" museum lectures were not what the people wanted to pay
money to see and that it was dramatic stories of salvation and
redemption the public craved. While visiting his brother, John, in
Cincinnati, he partnered with sculptor,
Hiram Powers , for his
demonstrations with a theme based on
The Divine Comedy
Having some money saved and, still wanting to be an inventor as
opposed to a "medicine man", Colt made arrangements to begin building
guns using proper gunsmiths from
COLT\'S EARLY REVOLVER (1835–43)
With a loan from his cousin, Dudley Selden , and letters of recommendation from Ellsworth, Colt formed a corporation of venture capitalists in April 1836 to bring his idea to market. Through the political connections of these venture capitalists, the Patent Arms Manufacturing of Paterson, New Jersey, was chartered by the New Jersey legislature on March 5, 1836. Colt was given a commission for each gun sold in exchange for his dam of patent rights, and stipulated the return of the rights if the company disbanded.
Colt never claimed to have invented the revolver; his design was a more practical adaption of Collier's earlier revolving flintlock incorporating a locking bolt to keep the cylinder in line with the barrel. The invention of the percussion cap made ignition more reliable, faster, and safer than the older flintlock design. Colt's great contribution was to the use of interchangeable parts . Knowing that some gun parts were made by machine, he envisioned that all the parts on every Colt gun to be interchangeable and made by machine, later to be assembled by hand. His goal was the assembly line . This is shown in an 1836 letter that Colt wrote to his father in which he said,
The first workman would receive two or three of the most important parts and would affix these and pass them on to the next who would add a part and pass the growing article on to another who would do the same, and so on until the complete arm is put together.
Colt's U.S. revolver patent gave him a monopoly on revolver manufacture until 1857. His was the first practical revolver and the first practical repeating firearm, thanks to progress made in percussion technology. No longer a mere novelty arm, the revolver became an industrial and cultural legacy as well as a contribution to the development of war technology, ironically personified in the name of one of his company's later innovations, the "Peacemaker ".
EARLY PROBLEMS AND FAILURES
Although by the end of 1837 the Arms Company had made over 1,000
weapons, there were no sales. Following the
Panic of 1837
Constant problems for Colt were the provisions of the Militia Act of 1808 which stated that any arms purchased by a State militia had to be in current service in the United States Military. This Act prevented state militias from allocating funds towards the purchase of experimental weapons or foreign weapons.
Colt undermined his own company by his reckless spending. Selden constantly chastised him for using corporate funds to buy an expensive wardrobe or making lavish gifts to potential clients. Selden twice cut off Colt from company money for spending it on liquor and fancy dinners; Colt thought getting potential customers inebriated would generate more sales.
The company was briefly saved by the war against the Seminoles in Florida which provided the first sale of Colt's revolvers and his new revolving rifles . The soldiers in Florida praised the new weapon, but the unusual hammerless design, sixty years ahead of its time, led to difficulty in training men who were used to exposed-hammer guns. Consequently, many curious soldiers took the locks apart. This resulted in breakage of parts, stripped screw heads and inoperable guns. Colt soon reworked his design to leave the firing hammer exposed, but problems continued. In late 1843, after the loss of payment for the Florida pistols, the Paterson plant closed and a public auction was held in New York City to sell the company's most liquid assets.
MINES AND TINFOIL
Colt did not refrain long from manufacturing, and turned to selling
underwater electrical detonators and waterproof cable of his own
invention. Soon after the failure of the Patent Arms Manufacturing
Company, he teamed up with
When tensions with Great Britain prompted Congress to appropriate
funds for Colt's project toward the end of 1841, he demonstrated his
underwater mines to the US government. In 1842 he used one of the
devices to destroy a moving vessel to the satisfaction of the United
States Navy and President
After this setback, Colt turned his attention to perfecting tinfoil cartridges he had originally designed for use in his revolvers. The standard at the time was to have powder and ball contained in a paper or skin envelope or "cartridge" for ease of loading. However, if the paper got wet it would ruin the powder. Colt tried alternate materials such as rubber cement, but settled on a thin type of tinfoil. In 1841 he made samples of these cartridges for the army. During tests of the foil cartridges, 25 rounds were fired from a musket without cleaning. When the breech plug was removed from the barrel no fouling from the tin foil was evident. The reception was lukewarm and the army purchased a few thousand rounds for further testing. In 1843 the army returned to Colt with an order for 200,000 of the tinfoil cartridges packed 10 to a box for use in muskets.
With the money made from the cartridges Colt turned back to Morse and his cable for ideas other than detonating mines. Colt concentrated on manufacturing his waterproof telegraph cable, believing the business would prosper alongside Morse's invention. He began promoting the telegraph companies so he could create a wider market for his cable, for which he was to be paid $50 per mile. Colt tried to use this revenue to resurrect the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, but could not secure funds from other investors or even his own family. This left Colt time to improve his earlier revolver design and have a prototype built by a gunsmith in New York for his "New and improved revolver". This new revolver had a stationary trigger and was in a larger caliber. Colt submitted his single prototype to the War Department as a "Holster revolver".
COLT\'S PATENT MANUFACTURING COMPANY (1847–1860)
Main article: Colt\'s Manufacturing Company Samuel Hamilton Walker (1817–1847)
Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers had acquired some of the first Colt revolvers produced during the Seminole War and saw first-hand their effective use as his 15-man unit defeated a larger force of 70 Comanche in Texas. Walker wanted to order Colt revolvers for use by the Rangers in the Mexican-American War , and traveled to New York City in search of Colt. He met Colt in a gunsmith's shop on January 4, 1847, and placed an order for 1,000 revolvers. Walker asked for a few changes; the new revolvers would have to hold 6 shots instead of 5, have enough power to kill either a man or a horse with a single shot and be quicker to reload. The large order allowed Colt to establish a new firearm business. Colt hired Eli Whitney Blake , who was established in the arms business, to make his guns. Colt used his prototype and Walker's improvements as the basis for a new design. From this new design, Blake produced the first thousand-piece order known as the Colt Walker . The company then received an order for a thousand more; Colt took a share of the profits at $10 per pistol for both orders.
With the money he made from the sales of the Walkers and a loan from his cousin, banker Elisha Colt, Colt bought the machinery and tooling from Blake to build his own factory: Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company factory at Hartford . The first revolving-breech pistols made at the factory were called "Whitneyville-Hartford-Dragoons" and became so popular that the word "Colt" was often used as a generic term for the revolver. The Whitneyville-Hartford Dragoon, largely built from leftover Walker parts, is known as the first model in the transition from the Walker to the Dragoon series. Beginning in 1848, more contracts followed for what is today known as the Colt Dragoon Revolvers . These models were based on the Walker Colt, and in three generations slight changes to each model showed the rapid evolution of the design. The improvements were 7 1⁄2-inch (190 mm) barrels for accuracy, shorter chambers and an improved loading lever. The shorter chambers were loaded to 50 grains of powder, instead of 60 grains in the earlier Walkers, to prevent the occurrence of ruptured cylinders . Finally, a positive catch was installed at the end of the loading lever to prevent the lever from dropping under recoil .
Besides being used in the war with Mexico , Colt's revolvers were
employed as a sidearm by both civilians and soldiers. Colt's revolvers
were a key tool in the westward expansion. A revolver which could fire
six times without reloading helped soldiers and settlers fend off
larger forces which were not armed in the same way. In 1848, Colt
introduced smaller versions of his pistols known as Baby Dragoons that
were made for civilian use. In 1850 General
Sam Houston and General
Thomas Jefferson Rusk lobbied Secretary of War
William Marcy and
James K. Polk to adopt Colt's revolvers for the U.S.
military. Rusk testified: "Colt's Repeating Arms are the most
efficient weapons in the world and the only weapon which has enabled
the frontiersman to defeat the mounted Indian in his own peculiar mode
of warfare." Lt. Bedley McDonald, who served under Walker when Walker
was killed in Mexico, stated that 30 Rangers used Colt's revolvers to
keep 500 Mexicans in check. Colt followed this design with the Colt
Colt 1851 Navy
During this period, Colt received an extension on his patent since he did not collect on it in the early years. In 1852, gun makers James Warner and Massachusetts Arms infringed on the patent. Colt sued the companies and the court ordered that Warner and Massachusetts Arms cease revolver production. Colt then threatened to sue Allen as a result they created their own.
Colt knew he had to make his revolvers affordable, as the death of many great inventions was a high retail price. Colt fixed his prices at a level below his competition to maximize sales volume. From his experience in haggling with government officials, he knew what numbers he would have to generate to make enough profit to invest money in improving his machinery, thereby limiting imitators' ability to produce a comparable weapon at a lower price. Although successful at this, for the most part, his preoccupation with marketing strategies and patent protection caused him to miss a great opportunity in firearms development when he dismissed an idea from one of his gunsmiths, Rollin White . White had an idea of a "bored-through" revolver cylinder to allow the use of metallic cartridges in a handgun. After Colt fired White for suggesting an improvement to his revolver, White took his idea to Colt's competitor, Smith "> Colt's Armory, viewed from the east; from an 1857 engraving.
Colt purchased a large tract of land beside the Connecticut River , where he built his first factory in 1848, a larger factory called the Colt Armory in 1855, a manor that he called Armsmear in 1856, and employee tenement housing. He established a ten-hour day for employees, installed washing stations in the factory, mandated a one-hour lunch break, and built the Charter Oak Hall, where employees could enjoy games, newspapers, and discussion rooms. Colt ran his plant with a military-like discipline, he would fire workers for tardiness, sub-par work or even suggesting improvements to his designs.
Colt hired Elisha K. Root as his chief mechanic in setting up the plant's machinery. Root had been successful in an earlier venture automating the production of axes and made, bought, or improved jigs, fixtures and profile machinery for Colt. Over the years he developed specialized machinery for stock turning or cutting the rifling in gun barrels. Historian Barbara Tucker credits Root as "the first to build special purpose machinery and apply it to the manufacture of a commercial product". Colt historian Herbert G. Houze, wrote, "had it not been for Root's inventive genius, Colt's dream of mass production would never have been realized".
Thus, Colt's factory was the first to make use of the concept known as the assembly line . The idea was not new but was never successful in industry at the time because of the lack of interchangeable parts. Root's machinery changed that for Colt, since the machines completed as much as 80% of the work and less than 20% of the parts required hand fitting and filing. Colt's revolvers were made by machine, but he insisted on final hand finishing and polishing of his revolvers to impart a handmade feel. Colt turned to artisan gun makers from Bavaria and developed a commercial use for Waterman Ormsby 's grammagraph to produce "roll-die " engraving on steel, particularly on the cylinders. He hired Bavarian engraver Gustave Young for fine hand engraving on his more "custom" pieces. In an attempt to attract skilled European-immigrant workers to his plant, Colt built a village near the factory away from the tenements which he named Coltsville and modeled the homes after a village in Potsdam. In an effort to stem the flooding from the river he planted German osiers , a type of willow tree, in a 2-mile-long dike. He subsequently built a factory to manufacture wicker furniture made from these trees.
On June 5, 1856, Colt married Elizabeth Jarvis, the daughter of the Rev. William Jarvis, who lived downriver from Hartford. The wedding was lavish and featured the ceremony on a steamship overlooking the factory as well as fireworks and rifle salutes. The couple had four children: two daughters and a son who died in infancy and a son born in 1858: Caldwell Hart Colt .
Colt Model 1855 Carbine produced in London
Soon after establishing his Hartford factory, Colt set out to
establish a factory in Europe and chose London. He organized a large
display of his firearms at the
Great Exhibition of 1851 at Hyde Park,
London and ingratiated himself by presenting cased engraved Colt
revolvers to such appropriate officials as Britain's Master General of
the Ordnance. At one exhibit Colt disassembled ten guns and
reassembled ten guns using different parts from different guns. As the
world's leading proponent of mass production techniques, Colt went on
to deliver a lecture on the subject to the Institution of Civil
Engineers (ICE) in London. The membership rewarded his efforts by
awarding him the Silver
Telford Medal . With help from ICE secretary,
Charles Manby , Colt established his London operation near Vauxhall
Bridge on the Thames River and began production on January 1, 1853.
On a tour of the factory,
When foreign heads of state would not grant him an audience, as he was only a private citizen, he persuaded the governor of the state of Connecticut make him a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp in the state militia. With this rank, he toured Europe again to promote his revolvers. He used marketing techniques which were innovative at the time. He frequently gave custom engraved versions of his revolvers to heads of state, military officers, and personalities such as Giuseppe Garibaldi , King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy , and Hungarian freedom fighter Lajos Kossuth . Colt commissioned western artist George Catlin to produce a series of paintings depicting exotic scenes in which a Colt weapon was prominently used against Indians, wild animals, or bandits in the earliest form of "product placement". He placed numerous advertisements in the same newspapers; The Knickerbocker ran as many as eight in the same edition. Lastly, he hired authors to write stories about his guns for magazines and travel guides. One of Colt's biggest acts of self-promotion was the payment to the publishers of United States Magazine $1,120 ($61,439 by 1999 standards) to run a 29-page fully illustrated story showing the inner workings of his factory.
After his revolvers had gained acceptance, Colt looked for unsolicited news stories containing mention of his guns that he could excerpt and reprint. He went so far as to hire agents in other states and territories to find such samples, to buy hundreds of copies for himself and to give the editor a free revolver for writing them, particularly if such a story disparaged his competition. Many of the revolvers Colt gave away as "gifts" had inscriptions such as "Compliments of Col. Colt" or "From the Inventor" engraved on the back straps. Later versions contained his entire signature which was used in many of his advertisements as a centerpiece, using his celebrity to guarantee the performance of his weapons. Colt eventually secured a trademark for his signature.
LATER YEARS AND DEATH
American Civil War
Colt historian William Edwards wrote that
It is estimated that in its first 25 years of manufacturing, Colt's company produced over 400,000 revolvers. Before his death, each barrel was stamped: "Address Col. Samuel Colt, New York, US America", or a variation using a London address. Colt did this as New York and London were major cosmopolitan cities and he retained an office in New York at 155 Broadway where he based his salesmen. A Dragoon revolver, Colt's gift to the Sultan of Turkey
Colt was the first American manufacturer to use art as a marketing
tool when he hired Catlin to prominently display Colt firearms in his
paintings. He was awarded numerous government contracts after making
gifts of his highly embellished and engraved revolvers with exotic
grips such as ivory or pearl to government officials. On a trip to
Constantinople he gave a custom-engraved and gold inlaid revolver to
the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Apart from gifts and bribes, Colt employed an effective marketing program which comprised sales promotion, publicity, product sampling, and public relations. He used the press to his own advantage by giving revolvers to editors, prompting them to report "all the accidents that occur to the Sharps he preferred written testimonials from individual soldiers who used his weapons and these were what he most relied on to secure government contracts.
Colt felt that bad press was just as important as good press; provided that his name and his revolvers received mention. When he opened the London armory he posted a 14-foot sign on the roof across from Parliament reading "Colonel Colt's Pistol Factory" as a publicity stunt which created a stir in the British press. Eventually the British government forced him to take down this sign. Colt historian Herbert Houze wrote that Colt championed the concept of modernism before the word was coined, he pioneered the use of celebrity endorsements to promote his products, he introduced the adjective "new and improved" to advertising and demonstrated the commercial value of brand-name recognition as the word for "revolver" in French is Le Colt. Barbara M. Tucker, professor of history and director of the Center for Connecticut Studies at Eastern Connecticut State University , wrote that Colt's marketing techniques transformed the firearm from a utilitarian object into a central symbol of American identity. Tucker added that Colt tied his revolvers to American patriotism, freedom and individualism while asserting America's technological supremacy over Europe's.
In 1867, his widow, Elizabeth, had an Episcopal church designed by
Edward Tuckerman Potter built as a memorial to
Colt set up libraries and educational programs within his armories for his employees which were seminal training grounds for several generations of toolmakers and other machinists , who had great influence in other manufacturing efforts of the next half century. Prominent examples included Francis A. Pratt , Amos Whitney , Henry Leland , Edward Bullard , Worcester R. Warner , Charles Brinckerhoff Richards , William Mason and Ambrose Swasey .
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