This Day in History (4-Jan-1847) – Arms Manufacturer Samuel Colt Sells Revolvers to the Texas Rangers

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.


This Day in History (20-Sep-1973) – King triumphs in Battle of Sexes

In 1961, at age 17, during her first outing to Wimbledon, Billie Jean King  won the women’s doubles title. King would rack up a total of 20 Wimbledon victories, in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, over the course of her trailblazing career. In 1971, she became the first female athlete to earn more than $100,000 in prize money in a single season. In 1972, she was the first woman to be chosen Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” and in 1973, she became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association. However, significant pay disparities still existed between men and women athletes and King lobbied hard for change. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first major tennis tournament to hand out the same amount of prize money to winners of both sexes. Bobby Riggs, 55, a 1939 Wimbledon champion,  a former No. 1 ranked men’s player and a self-proclaimed male chauvinist, not agreeing with equality of women players boasted that women were inferior, that they couldn’t handle the pressure of the game and that even at his age he could beat any female player. King challenged the Rigg’s claim.

On this day in 1973, a highly publicized “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match was held at Houstan, Texas. The match was a huge media event, witnessed in person by over 30,000 spectators and by another 50 million TV viewers worldwide. King made a Cleopatra-style entrance on a gold litter carried by men dressed as ancient slaves, while Riggs arrived in a rickshaw pulled by female models. Legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell called the match, in which King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. King’s achievement not only helped legitimize women’s professional tennis and female athletes, but it was seen as a victory for women’s rights in general.

King also established a sports foundation and magazine for women and a team tennis league. In 1974, as a coach of the Philadelphia Freedoms, one of the teams in the league, she became the first woman to head up a professional co-ed team. The “mother of modern sports” retired from tennis with 39 Grand Slam career titles. In 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, was renamed in King’s honor.