Since its invention in 1836, the Colt revolver set a series of events in motion that would change the course of American history. From the Wild West to the Civil War to present day, this simple invention would create a Western culture and contribute toward making America a global military superpower.
Samuel Colt: Inventor of the Revolver
In 1836, Samuel Colt patented the first revolver. He was just 22 years old at the time. The idea for a revolving chamber had come to him while serving as a seaman and observing a similar mechanism as the ship’s wheel revolved. In his spare time on the ship, Colt whittled his first wooden prototype. The signature piece on this firearm was a revolving chamber that held up to six bullets and revolved automatically upon firing. Being able to fire multiple times without reloading was a novel concept. Until then, though muskets, rifles and pistols were available, the preferred weapon of early Americans was the Bowie knife. The first revolvers were not as accurate as a rifle in hitting a target, but because the shooter had six chances, precise marksmanship became less of a necessity.
The U.S. Government Comes to Call
On January 4th, 1847, the U.S. government made its first large purchase of Colt Revolvers and distributed them to American soldiers. The government soon became Colt’s biggest customer, financially enabling him to expand his facilities. Eli Whitney, Jr., son of the inventor of the cotton gin, helped Colt to develop a system of mass production, thereby lowering the cost of the revolver and making them available to gunslingers everywhere. Colt revolvers soon became the common form of protection in the Wild West. By the mid-1850s, Samuel Colt was one of the ten wealthiest men in the United States.
The Gun That Won the West
Between 1860 and 1900, over 2 million people immigrated to the Wild West, and almost all of them were reliant on firearms to survive. The Colt revolver was the most popular firearm on the frontier, as it had the ability to shoot multiple rounds without reloading. Colts sales benefited greatly during the Mexican-American War, and during ongoing frontier battles with Native Americans over territory. As Captain Samuel Walker of Texas wrote in his testimonial for Colt: "Your pistols...[are] the most perfect weapon in the world... to keep the various warlike tribes of Indians and marauding Mexicans in subjection." The Colt revolver became commonly known as “the gun that won the West.”
The Revolver Seals Its Place in History
Though Colt helped the South build its armory, he sold only to the Union after Lincoln made the official declaration of Civil War. The Colt company's post-war slogan was, "Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal."
The Colt revolver was known for its high quality craftsmanship and won many awards. Colt Revolvers with gold inlay were presented to czars and kings around the world, and soon Colt was selling worldwide. Revolvers became America’s first major exported product. Colt set up sales offices in New York and London. In 1867, the Colt company began producing the semiautomatic Gattling machine gun and from there, continued to produce semiautomatic weapons that would contribute to the United States' superior military power. Colt continued to play a crucial role in arming U.S. forces at home and around the globe, designing models of revolvers, automatic pistols and machine guns specifically for the military. Today, Colt remains one of the leading manufacturers of firearms in the U.S.
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