Hartford, CT-based entrepreneur and inventor Samuel Colt made a significant contribution to the U.S. manufacturing industry. He helped put Connecticut on the map by founding Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (today known as Colt’s Manufacturing Company) and making the mass production of the revolver marketable.
Born in Hartford, CT in 1814, Colt began a lifetime of entrepreneurship at the age of 22, when he opened his first plant in Paterson, NJ with the help of his uncle. There he developed and manufactured pocket, belt, and holster model pistols as well as two types of rifles.
Colt’s firearms were attributed to the success of the U.S. Dragoon forces and Texas rangers, who were fighting the Indians in Texas in 1845. Captain Samuel H. Walker of the U.S. Army worked with Colt to design an advanced revolver, which was called “the Walker.” In 1847, the U.S. Ordnance Department ordered 1,000 of the new pistols. Colt, who didn’t have a factory, collaborated with Eli Whitney Jr. who had a factory in Connecticut, to fill the large order.
Innovation, Revolution, and Success
Several years later, in 1851, Colt became the first American manufacturer to open a plant in England. He also began purchasing land on the Connecticut River in Hartford, where he proceeded to open Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in 1855.
Colt’s claim to fame was not as the inventor of the revolver; rather his design adapted an earlier version of the revolving flintlock that made ignition faster, safer, and more dependable than prior flintlock design.
Colt’s innovative manufacturing methods put the company at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. With his use of interchangeable parts for his revolvers, Colt became one of the first to put the assembly line model into practice.
Another fundamental component of Colt’s success was his intense protection of his patents. Although he rightfully held the only patent on a revolver, many imitated his work and Colt was regularly in litigation.
Colt became a pioneer in the fields of advertising and mass marketing by using prize-winning engraved guns, celebrity endorsements, and corporate gifts as means of product promotion.
According to the Colt Manufacturing website, Colt was producing 150 weapons a day by 1856—and the accuracy, reliability, and fine workmanship on models such as the 1851 Navy and 1849 Pocket were becoming known worldwide.
In 1860, as the United States moved toward Civil War, Colt’s health began to deteriorate. Prior to the war, Colt continued to supply customers in the southern states. Once the war became official, Colt only supplied the Union forces.
Elizabeth Colt—Remarkable Woman of Hartford
The Colt factory employed more than 1,000 people and had annual profits exceeding $250,000 by the end of 1861. At the time of his death on January 10, 1862, Samuel Colt had produced more than 400,000 firearms and created a $15 million fortune.
Colt left his manufacturing empire and fortune to his widow Elizabeth Jarvis Colt, who he had married in 1856.
Sadly, the Colt Armory burned to the ground in 1864, halting all but limited military production for three years. Jarvis Colt played a key role in the factory’s rebuild. In 1865, Jarvis Colt’s brother, Richard Jarvis, took over as president of the company. The siblings transitioned the company from the end of the American Civil War through the early 20th Century, where the trend progressed from percussion revolvers to cartridge revolvers to semiautomatic pistols and machineguns.
During both World Wars, the Colt Company was a major producer of sidearms, rifles, machine guns, and anti-aircraft guns for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Colt Company collaborated with John Moses Browning, helping to produce machine guns, the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Model 1903 and Model 1908 Automatics, and the Model 1911, which became the standard sidearm for the Department of the Army in World War I and, as the Model 1911A1, in World War II.
The renowned Model 1873, which became known as “the Colt .45” was introduced by the Colt Company in 1873—and still in production today. The famous handgun was also referred to as “the Peacemaker.” The innovative design fired six metallic cartridges and was available in more than 30 different calibers and a variety of barrel lengths.
Jarvis Colt was well immersed in society life in Hartford, CT. She was President of the Hartford Women’s Auxiliary and served as the President of the Union for Home Work for 22 years. Jarvis Colt became the first President of the Hartford Soldiers Aid Society. In 1869, she organized the first Suffragette convention in Connecticut.
Jarvis Colt, who is included in Cynthia Boynton Wolfe’s American Heritage book, Remarkable Women of Hartford, was dubbed “The First Lady of Hartford.”
In 1901 Jarvis Colt sold her interest in Colt’s Manufacturing Company. She died August 23, 1905.
At the Forefront of Innovation
At the conclusion of World War I and II, the Colt Company remained at the forefront of innovation, introducing the Commander lightweight semiautomatic pistol, the Cobra lightweight revolvers, the Colt Commemoratives, and the legendary Colt Python.
Another Colt Company milestone took place in 1960, when Colt introduced the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, based on a design by Eugene Stoner, which followed soon after by the M16 military full automatic version. According to the Colt Manufacturing website, the AR-15 platform continues to be the most popular rifle in the United States to this day.
Colt Manufacturing Company Today
The Hartford Armory was closed in 1994 and moved to its current location on New Park Avenue in West Hartford, CT, not far from Samuel Colt’s original Hartford, CT armory.
For more than 160 years, the Colt Manufacturing Company has been an innovator and industry pioneer. The company continues to produce firearms for military, law enforcement, commercial, and international markets.
Colt Manufacturing Company: History, Wikipedia (“Samuel Colt” and “Elizabeth Colt”)