Colt Firearms history
An arms manufacturer founded by Samuel Colt (1814–62) in Paterson, New Jersey. The company was founded to produce Colt’s idea for a revolving-cylinder handgun, which he patented in 1836. The new invention was a radical change from handguns that used flintlock technology and were capable of firing only one round. His invention allowed five or six rounds to be fired consecutively before reloading.
Colt also manufactured carbine rifles. Despite developing several models of gun, the Paterson factory closed in 1842. The factory and equipment were sold, and Colt dabbled in other ventures, including the development of underwater ammunition, including mines, and collaboration with telegraph inventor Samuel F. B. MORSE. After the Mexican War began in 1846, Colt’s firearms again became popular when the army used limited quantities of them in Texas. The U.S. Ordnance Department bought a thousand of the newly designed handguns, and Colt began producing them in Connecticut with the help of Eli Whitney Jr., son of the inventor who had originated the concept of interchangeable parts years before.
In 1851, Colt became one of the first American manufacturers to set up facilities in England in order to manufacture his products abroad. The parent company was incorporated in 1855 with the issuance of 10,000 shares, of which Colt kept all but four shares for himself. It sold its products to retailers through a sales force of agents and jobbers. When the Civil War began, Colt ceased selling his guns in the South and supplied only Union forces. In 1861, the firm had 1,000 employees and earned about $250,000 per year. Colt died shortly after the war began, and the company remained under family control until 1901, when it was sold to outside investors. In 1867, it began producing Gatling guns, a prototype of the later machine gun. A special revolver made for the Texas Rangers also proved popular and reliable. It was made in a Colt factory in Paterson, New Jersey.
During World War I, Colt collaborated with John Browning and produced Browning automatic rifles and machine guns. The company also produced the most famous of its products, the Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol. During both world wars, Colt produced more than 2.5 million of them for the government, and the weapon became famous as one of the most effective and reliable of all time. After the war, the company was purchased by the Penn-Texas Corp. and began to diversify into other areas such as machinery and even commercial washing machines.
In the 1960s, the company introduced several lines of automatic rifles, including the famous M- 16. In 1964, the parent company reorganized as Colt Industries, and the firearms part became known as Colt Firearms. More automatic weapons were introduced in the 1980s, but the company suffered a setback when the Colt .45 was replaced as official government issue in 1984. After a series of unsuccessful corporate maneuvers, the company filed for Chapter 11 BANKRUPTCY in 1992. But product development continued in the 1990s with the introduction of new automatic rifles. In the 1990s, the company also began developing smart-gun technology.
Colt produced the most recognizable handguns in the world. The original revolver is forever associated with the opening of the American West, and the automatic became the most famous handgun used in World War I and in the years following.
- Boorman, Dean K. The History of Colt Firearms. New York: Lyons Press, 2001.
- Hosley, William. Colt: The Making of an American Legend. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.