Friday, July 19, 2013

Happy birthday, gun maker Samuel Colt

It is the birthday of inventor Samuel Colt (1814), who is remembered for the revolver that bears his name. Colt didn't invent the revolver but his designs greatly improved it and his assembly line manufacturing system made mass production of the sidearms practical.

Colt sold weapons for use in the Seminole Indian Wars in Florida but soldiers tended to take them apart and strip the screw heads, making them useless. Still, they were pretty efficient and he got an order for guns for the war with Mexico, these with six shots, quick reloading and more power.

After the war was over, he sold guns to Mexico, in preparation for their next war. He sold, too, to both sides in the Civil War, and later to countries in Europe. The consummate salesman, he presented heads of state with custom-made pistols with elaborate designs and inscriptions, casually mentioning that their international rivals had already placed orders for his weapons.

Colt's weapons were a key part of the taming of the Wild West. To bolster sales, Colt hired artist George Catlin to paint a series of scenes prominently showing his weapons being used against Indians, outlaws, and wild animals. He hired writers to produce stories about his guns for magazines and readers to spot unsolicited stories mentioning his guns, often rewarding the editor with a gift revolver.

Charles Dickens wrote about Colt's revolver in an article in Household Words (1854). Books about Colt include Armsmear: the home, the arm, and the armory of Samuel Colt: A Memorial (1866), Instigation of the Devil (1930), Yankee Arms Maker: the Incredible Career of Samuel Colt (1935), A History of the Colt Revolver (1940), The Story of Colt's Revolver (1953), and The Flamboyant Mr. Colt and His Deadly Six-Shooter (1978).

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