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Samuel Colt (1814-1862)

Biography of industrialist and gunsmith Samuel Colt (1814-1862)

Samuel Colt (1814-1862) was born on 19th July 1814 in Hartford in Connecticut. He founded Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (now known as Colt's Manufacturing Company), which is perhaps one of the world's most widely known manufacturers of revolvers and firearms still in existence today.

It is surprising to note that Samuel Colt did not claim to have invented the revolver, but merely adapted previous pistol designs in order to achieve mass production via an assembly line.

At the age of 11, Colt was indentured to work for a farmer where he also attended school, preferring to read a scientific encyclopaedia rather than the bible. The entries on gunpowder fascinated him and were to have a lasting effect on his life, even resulting in the ending of his schooling in 1830 when an attempt to impress his classmates with pyrotechnics resulted in a fire.

Returning from a short spell at sea in 1832, Colt began to work for his father's company and set about designing a revolver capable of machined mass production. His father’s reluctance to finance his son’s indulgence meant Colt had to find a new way of raising capital for his venture. His solution was to not only help him financially but help build his reputation as an inscrutable salesman. Learning about the effects of nitrous oxide (more commonly known as laughing gas) from the chemists at his father’s textile firm, Colt set himself up as a travelling medicine man performing laughing gas exhibitions across America and Canada.

Colt's first patent landmark for a new style of revolving gun was granted in 1836, though the sales and demand for this new gun were slow. Ever the businessman, Colt sought other ventures in which to raise capital including the production of waterproof telegraph cable and tinfoil mounted cartridges.

Slowly the popularity of Colt’s firearms began to rise through their reliability during the Mexican-American War and the expansion westwards of the early settlers. In 1851, Colt patented the Colt Navy 1851 six-shot revolver that became the standard sidearm for the US Military, the legacy of which continues today.

Samuel Colt’s keen business mind meant he sold guns to both the North and South in the run up to the American Civil War, a policy he had undertaken in selling guns to both parties in conflicts in Europe.

Further developments to the revolvers centred on the standardisation of machined components for his guns that allowed interchangeable barrels and cylinders. Known as one of the world’s leading exponents of mass production, Colt delivered a lecture on the subject in London at the Institute of Civil Engineers.

Though he would not live to see even the end of the American Civil War, dying of gout on 10th January1862 in Hartford, Connecticut eleven years after the release of the iconic Colt Navy, the legacy of Colt’s work has lead some historians to claim he changed the course of history.

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