Today we celebrate the birthday of Samuel Colt (July 19, 1814 – January 10, 1862). He did not grow to be very old, but in his lifetime he did establish an American icon, Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (now known as Colt’s Manufacturing Company). Through his company, he developed the first viable mass produced revolver.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts at getting a gun-making business off the ground, Colt got his break when the Texas Rangers ordered 1000 of his revolvers in 1847, during the American Civil War with Mexico. His guns were also used by both the North and the South during the American Civil War. The 1872 Colt Single Action Army revolver (also known as the Model P, the Peacemaker and the Colt 45) has become one of the best known sidearms in history.
Even though he did not invent the revolver, he did contribute meaningful practical adaptations to the design. Samuel Colt’s real innovation, however, lay in his use of an assembly line approach to manufacturing and using interchangeable parts in the construction of his guns. This approach, enabling him to be more efficient and cost-effective than his competition, placed him at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. In Colt’s words, “The first workman would receive two or three of the most important parts and would affix these and pass them on to the next who add a part and pass the growing article on to another who would do the same, and so on until the complete arm is put together.”
Colt was also an advertising and marketing pioneer, employing techniques like celebrity endorsement and corporate gifts to promote his wares. He may at times have gone a bit too far in terms of ‘marketing’, however, having often been accused of promoting his weapons through bribery, threats and monopoly.
Reading up on the man, its clear that Colt was a larger than life character who thought big, lived extravagantly, and didn’t shy away from conflict and controversy.
In 2006, Samuel Colt was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.