When he was just 15 years old, Samuel Colt decided he needed more adventure than his father’s textile mill offered him. So he signed on a ship as a sailor and went to sea. According to legend, it was while at sea that Samuel Colt developed his idea for a pistol with a revolving cylinder, while watching the ship’s wheel and ship’s capstan. After obtaining revolver patents in Europe and US, he established a factory to manufacture firearms in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1836. But his revolving cartridge firearm was slow to gain acceptance, and the business, Patent Arms Manufacturing, closed down in 1842.
In 1847 Colt rekindled his firearms business when the U.S. Army contacted him to purchase a sizable quantity of his revolvers. His patented revolvers, capable of firing multiple shots in quick succession without reloading, provided a crucial firepower advantage to settlers and soldiers who were expanding the United States westward in the 19th century. Colt was able to fulfill the government’s request and it was the boost he needed to focus on firearms again.
He opened a facility in England. In 1855, he completed construction of his new Hartford manufacturing plant along the Connecticut River, which was the largest private arms manufacturing facility in the world. Here he implemented new ideas in manufacturing, including the use of interchangeable parts, production lines, and advanced precision machinery. Colt was a masterful marketer and self-promoter who relied on more than just advertisements. He personally commissioned artist George Catlin, famous for his depictions of Native Americans and life in the West, to incorporate Colt revolvers into a dozen paintings, six of which were reproduced as mass-market lithographic prints. Colt also hired authors to pen stories about his revolvers for magazine features and traveled the world to present heads of state with lavishly engraved, gilded pistols. After Colt presented an Ottoman sultan with a gold revolver, the Turks ordered 5,000 of his pistols. Colt firearms were known for their high quality and dependability. They were widely used in the Civil War, and the Colt .45 calibre Peacemaker model became synonymous with America’s West.