Samuel Colt (July 19, 1814 – January 10, 1862) was an American inventor and industrialist from Hartford, Connecticut. 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 — producing firearms in Paterson, New Jersey, and making underwater mines — ended in disappointment.
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 exploit the assembly line. 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, although he was criticized during and after his life for promoting his arms through bribes, threats and monopoly.
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 rifle 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 plant in 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 then sent him off to learn the seaman’s trade. On a voyage to Calcutta on board the brig Corvo, he noticed that regardless of which way the ship’s wheel was spun, each spoke always came in direct line with a clutch that could be set to hold it. He later said that this gave him the idea for the revolver.
On the Corvo, Colt made a wooden model of a pepperbox revolver out of scrap wood. It differed from other pepperbox revolvers at the time in that it would allow the shooter to rotate the cylinder by the action of cocking the hammer and a pawl locking the cylinder in place, rather than rotating the barrels by hand and hoping for proper indexing and alignment.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.
Having some money saved and keeping his idea alive of being an inventor as opposed to a “medicine man”, Colt made arrangements to begin building guns using proper gunsmiths from Baltimore, Maryland. He abandoned the idea of a multiple barreled revolver and opted for a new design, a rotating cylinder which would come into alignment with a single barrel due to his idea of a pawl engaging the cylinder and holding it in place.He sought the counsel of a friend of his father, Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, who loaned him $300 and advised him to perfect his prototype before applying for a patent.
Colt hired a gunsmith by the name of John Pearson to build his revolver. Over the next few years Colt and Pearson fought over money, but the design improved and in 1835 Colt was ready to apply for his US patent. Ellsworth was now the superintendent of the US Patent Office and advised Colt to file for foreign patents first as a prior US patent would keep Colt from filing a patent in Great Britain. In August 1835, Colt left for England and France to secure his foreign patent.
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 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 & other humbug arms”, and listing incidents where Colt weapons had been “well used against bears, Indians, Mexicans, etc”. In 2006, Samuel Colt was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.