Member: National Bit, Spur & Saddle Collector's Association and Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America
Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal." This post-Civil War slogan would have been music to Sam Colt's ears had he lived long enough to hear it. Yet, even before his death at the age of 47, he knew that his invention of a weapon capable of firing without reloading was a tremendous success throughout the world. Some 19th-century historians have gone so far as to say that Sam Colt's invention altered the course of history. Whatever the case, when all was said and done, no one could deny that Sam Colt had achieved both fame and fortune known to few other inventors.
Sam Colt's success story began with the issuance of a U.S. patent in 1836 for the Colt firearm equipped with a revolving cylinder containing five or six bullets. Colt's revolver provided its user with greatly increased firepower. Prior to Colt’s invention, only one- and two-barrel flintlock pistols were available. In the 173 years that have followed, more than 30 million revolvers, pistols, and rifles bearing the Colt name have been produced, almost all of them in plants located in the Hartford, Connecticut, area. HISTORY CONTINUES BELOW...
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The Colt revolving-cylinder concept is said to have occurred to Sam Colt while serving as a seaman aboard the sailing ship Corvo. There he observed a similar principle in the workings of the ship's capstan. During his leisure hours, Sam carved a wooden representation of his idea. The principle was remarkable in its simplicity and its applicability to both longarms and sidearms. Nevertheless, Colt's idea was not an instant success. At the outset, many people preferred the traditional flintlock musket or pistol to such a novel weapon.
Colt’s factory was equipped with the most up-to-date metalworking machinery available and was capable of turning out 5,000 finished handguns during its first year of operation. Knowledgeable of the latest achievements of New England's world-famous machine tool industry, Colt lost no time in specifying interchangeable parts, some 80% of which were turned out on modern precision machinery. Sam Colt is reported to have said, "There is nothing that can't be produced by machine," and his factory's production machinery achieved a remarkably high degree of uniformity for the mid-19th century. Typically, the metal parts of a Colt revolver were designed, molded, machined, fitted, stamped with a serial number, hardened, and assembled.
In 1860, the country moved toward Civil War. Prior to the actual declaration of war, Colt continued to ship his product to customers in southern states, but as soon as war was official, Colt supplied only the Union forces. The Armory was running at full capacity by year-end 1861, with more than 1,000 employees and annual profits exceeding $250,000. Samuel Colt died on January 10, 1862, at the age of only 47, having produced in his lifetime more than 400,000 guns. His estate was reportedly worth $15 million, a fantastic sum for the time.
In 1872, Colt began to manufacture its first breech-loaded revolver that used self-contained metallic cartridges. That gun became world-famous as the Single Action Army® Model 1873 and it was designed to use metallic ammunition that contained its own primer. In the years just prior to introduction of the 1873, thousands of percussive Colt revolvers had been converted to use a front-loaded, center-fired cartridge and there was pent-up demand for a gun designed for the new cartridge. The Single Action Army was an immediate sales success. Eventually, it became the stuff of legend as the “Peacemaker”® and "the gun that won the West." Between 1873 and 1941, Colt produced more than 350,000 Single Action Army revolvers of varying caliber, including almost 40,000 of the .45 caliber model sold to the U.S. government.
Product expansion continued during the 1880s. As its fame and reach grew, Colt Firearms had no single competitor. Smith & Wesson offered the greatest competition for the Colt line of handguns. Where rifles and shotguns were concerned, Remington and Winchester were the strongest competitors.
No other U.S. company produced as many fully automatic rifles, best known as machine guns, as did Colt Firearms. In large part, this was due to Colt’s long and profitable relationship with John Moses Browning. As early as 1891, Colt Firearms worked with Browning to produce a gas-operated, air-cooled (later water-cooled) machine gun. That gun was first delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1897 and was destined to play a major role in both the Boxer Rebellion and the Spanish-American War.*
* History of the Colt Company courtesy: Colt's Manufacturing Company, LLC. http://www.coltsmfg.com/About/History.aspx
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Members: National Bit, Spur & Saddle Collector's Association
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