Samuel Colt (1814 – 1862)
Inventor and industrialist, Samuel Colt was the founder of Colt’s Manufacturing Company and is recognized for the improvement and mass production of the revolver.
Colt was born to a modest farming family and spent his youth working first on farms then in a textile mill. Colt’s father sent him to sea to learn a trade, and it is supposedly on the ship Corvo that Colt conceived of the concept of the revolving-cylinder by observing the ship’s wheel. Colt applied for a U.S. patent for his revolving cylinder design in 1836 and built his first factory in Paterson, New Jersey – known as the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company. Although the guns were popular with soldiers fighting the Seminole War, poor sales and business communication caused the factory to close in 1842.
Colt moved on by marketing other inventions, remote-controlled underwater detonators and underwater telegraph cables. Then, in early 1847, Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers contacted Colt about ordering and shipping revolvers and muskets to be used in the Mexican-American War. Walker had been one of the original soldiers who used Colt’s firearms during the Seminole War and credited the firearms with helping them to win battles. With no factory at the time, Colt hired Eli Whitney Jr., the son of the famous cotton gin inventor, to assist him with completing the order.
With this and other developments, Colt got back into the firearms business and eventually built his own factory on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hartford. The factory was incorporated as the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in 1855. It was designed to support assembly work and outfitted with state-of-the-art machinery. Colt continued to improve his firearms designs and developed a reputation for quality workmanship.
In 1856, Colt married Elizabeth Hart Jarvis, the daughter of Rev. William Jarvis and Elizabeth Hart. As a wedding gift to his new wife, Colt built their home Armsmear next to his armory property on Wethersfield Avenue in Hartford. Married only for five years, Samuel Colt died on January 10, 1862. He was originally interred at a private burial lot on Armsmear’s grounds, but Elizabeth moved him and four of their children who were also buried in the lot to Cedar Hill Cemetery in 1894 when their only child to survive to adulthood, Caldwell, died.
Colt Defense Weapons Systems. Accessed at http://www.colt.com/mil/history.asp in August 2010.
Connecticut’s Heritage Gateway. Accessed at http://www.ctheritage.org/encyclopedia/topicalsurveys/colt.htm in August 2010.
Hosley, William. Colt: The Making of an American Legend. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.
Houze, Herbert G. Samuel Colt: Arms, Art, and Invention. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.
Photo credit: Samuel Colt, Public Domain