By the age of 47, Sam Colt had amassed a small fortune�approximately $15million in 1862 (equivalent to about $300million today). Not bad for a man whose initial endeavors into firearms had turned up bankrupt. Today, we hear the name �Colt� and think of a gun of some type; but it was not always that way.
While serving as a seaman aboard the Corvo, Sam Colt watched how the capstan worked and began to figure out a way to apply that design to a hand gun. During his off hours, he whittled the prototype for his idea.1 He secured a patent for the idea in 1836 and then built his first plant. He was 22 years old.
The guns were rather innovative. During the time, the musket or flint-lock were the guns of choice. The way Colt�s system worked involved gunpowder and bullets being loaded into a revolving chamber and primer (flint) placed into a nipple outside the chamber where it would be struck by a hammer when the trigger was pulled. The initial purchases of these weapons gave great reviews, however, sales did not take off as Mr. Colt would have liked and the New Jersey plant closed in 1843.
As the sales for the guns and rifles declined from their already low state, Sam Colt decided to pitch some more ideas to the US Government, including waterproof gunpowder for underwater mines; and, with the collaboration of Samuel Morse, the telegraph. He and Morse lobbied Congress and finally, when tensions with Great Britain hit a high, Colt was allowed to demonstrate his waterproof mine (along with his waterproof cable for the telegraph). He successfully destroyed a ship to the Navy�s satisfaction�but a personal grief between President John Quincy Adams and Colt prevented the mines from going into service.
Still, Colt persisted. His guns were used during the Seminole War in Florida and he�d received a great deal of praise for them. That�s why when the Mexican-American War was on the verge of its beginnings, Captain Samuel Walker and the Texas Rangers ordered one thousand of Colt�s revolvers. Walker personally sought out Colt to collaborate on a new, more powerful pistol. Once the design had been created, Colt sought out Eli Whitney, Jr. for assistance in manufacturing the new Colt Walker.
From that point forward, Colt�s innovative designs gained world-wide fame. In 1851, he became the first American to open a plant in England. By 1855, he had a 250-acre manufacturing plant and offices in Hartford along the Connecticut River. Not only was Colt acclaimed for his firearms, but also his business plan. He was one of the earliest�and likely, the most successful�American entrepreneur to utilize the �modern� principles of marketing: sales promotion, publicity, product sampling, advertising, and public relations.2
By 1862, however, Colt�s health began to fail. His beautiful home, Armsmear, was renown as one of New England�s grandest residence. The ornate mansion boasted a greenhouse and formal garden area near the factory. Today, Armsmear is a home for the elderly. Sam Colt never lived to see �old age,� however. He died at the age of 47 on January 10,1862. He also never got to see his name become synonymous with �pistol� or �revolver.� In 1867, the company continued Colt�s innovative ideas with the development and sale of R.J. Gatlin�s machine gun. The Single Action Army Model 1873 rifle, also came after Colt�s death. Today, the company continues to look for innovative weapon designs and boasts a very impressive list of guns and styles. Not bad for a poor boy from Hartford.
For more information or to view the sources for this article, please visit the following links:
Official Colt History
Sam Colt�s Wiki