Samuel Colt was an American inventor and industrialist who designed and developed the world’s first handgun—better known as the ‘Revolver’—a hand held gun that could be fired multiple times without reloading. He founded the Colt’s Manufacturing Company and made it possible to commercially mass produce revolvers for the first time. He is one of those inventors who left an indelible mark on the weapons industry with his innovative gun designs. He had an interest in all things mechanical from an early age. As a teenager, he used to dismantle the gadgets in his house to understand how they worked. He had a special fascination with firearms and had a desire to develop a gun which could shoot multiple times without reloading. He got his idea for a ‘revolving’ cylinder when he embarked on a voyage aboard a ship. He observed the ship’s steering wheel that could spin or alternatively be locked in a fixed position through the use of a clutch. No doubt Colt was a brilliant inventor, but his initial business ventures failed miserably. But, his business picked up during the American war with Mexico when the Texas Rangers ordered 1,000 of his revolvers. His production and marketing techniques were ahead of his times and he successfully employed the assembly line production due to the usage of interchangeable parts. By the time of his death, he was hailed as someone who had revolutionized the weapons industry.
Childhood & Early Life
Samuel Colt was born in Connecticut to Christopher Colt, a farmer turned businessman, and Sarah. His mother died when he was young, and his father, who managed a small textile business, remarried a couple of years later.
Young Samuel attended school while working part time with a farmer. At the age of 11, he discovered the scientific encyclopedia, ‘Compendium of Knowledge’ from where he read about various inventors who accomplished things that were once deemed impossible.
He began working in his father’s textile plant at the age of 15 where he conducted many experiments using the factory tools, materials, and the factory workers’ expertise.
In 1830, he embarked on voyage aboard the ship ‘Corvo’. He was fascinated with the ship’s wheel that was controlled with a clutch—this gave him the idea that a similar mechanism could be used on a handgun.
While still on the ship, he designed a wooden model of his revolver and was determined to create a real gun upon his return.
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He designed a gun upon his return, but it exploded on use. He did not have any additional financial resources to fund another experiment, so he began touring North America under the name of ‘Dr.Coult’ and performed demonstrations using laughing gas to earn a living.
After he had earned enough money, he hired a gunsmith called John Pearson to design a gun with a rotating cylinder that could be used to fire multiple rounds without reloading. He applied to the U.S patent office to patent his invention but was advised to first secure a foreign patent from England.
In 1835, he went to England and acquired his first patent. On returning to America, he applied for and was granted a U.S patent for his revolving gun with folding trigger, named the ‘Colt Paterson’.
He started his own business for manufacturing and selling these firearms in 1836, but could not find enough buyers to profitably run the enterprise.
He could not generate enough sales in spite of making many marketing efforts. The burden of losses increased and the company was closed in 1843.
The outbreak of the Mexican-American war in 1846 changed his fortunes as Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers wanted to order 1000 revolvers from Colt. This large order enabled him to re-establish his business.
He hired Eli Whitney Blake, an established firearms maker, to make the ordered guns with an improved new design. The first thousand-piece order was known as the Colt Walker. Colt received a further order of another 1000 guns.
These orders revived his fortunes and he had enough money to build his own factory, Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (now known as Colt's Manufacturing Company). The company has produced millions of pistols, revolvers and rifles till date and is still in business.
Samuel Colt’s biggest accomplishment is the designing and development of the innovative handgun with a revolving cylinder. His created first handgun that could be used to fire multiple shots without having to reload.
He formed the Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company which is in business even today under the name of Colt’s Manufacturing Company. The fact that he was able to build a highly successful company after facing huge losses in his initial business endeavors is a testimonial to his entrepreneurial abilities.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1856, he married Elizabeth Jarvis, the daughter of the Rev. William Jarvis, in a lavish ceremony complete with fireworks and rifle salutes. The couple had four children.
Colt was always under immense stress because of his work and suffered from various health problems. He died in 1862, aged just 47.
He was one of the wealthiest men in America at the time of his death in 1862.
His brother John Colt was a convicted murderer who died by committing suicide.
Colt historian William Edwards stated that he had married a woman named Caroline Henshaw prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Jarvis and had a son with her.
He used to hire craftsmen to decorate special presentation pistols which were given to emperors, czars, and other dignitaries.