American inventor and industrialist Samuel Colt is best remembered for inventing the revolver in 1836. Colt’s father was a farmer turned businessman, and his mother’s father was an army officer whose flintlock pistol was one of Colt’s prized possessions. Colt’s earlier schooling took place in Glastonbury, where he showed more of an interest in science than in his Bible studies and keenly read a scientific encyclopedia called “Compendium of Knowledge”. When he was 15, he joined his father’s textile factory and familiarized himself with the workmen’s tools and equipment, and the general layout of the factory. Using this and his earlier knowledge, he made a homemade explosive which he used to blow up a raft at a fourth of July celebration. His parents then sent him to boarding school, where he continued to demonstrate his self created explosives to fellow students. One such incident at a fourth of July demonstration in 1830 led him to be expelled and his father then sent him off to sea to become a seaman.
While Colt was en route Calcutta on one of his voyages, he observed the ship’s navigation system and noticed that no matter which way the wheel went, the spokes were always aligned with the clutch which was set in a certain position to enable this. This was reportedly his inspiration for the idea of creating the “revolving gun” or revolver, as it later came to be called. He even developed a prototype of this using scrap wood.
After returning home in 1832, he went to work for his father, who financed the production of two guns which Colt had then developed, a rifle and a pistol. His father was unhappy with the results and refused to finance any further development. He then took to the road, and performed demonstrations for crowds using nitrous oxide (or laughing gas) in order to earn money. He even lectured in museums and lecture halls. After saving some money, he hired gunsmiths from Baltimore, including a famous gunsmith called John Pearson. He borrowed $300 from his friend’s father in order to apply for a patent.
Once he had received patents in both UK and USA, he teamed up with a group of venture capitalists to form a company named “Patent Arms Manufacturing of Paterson, New Jersey”. The patent granted him a monopoly on revolver manufacturing in the US. Samuel Colt’s company underwent several financial crisis and operational bottlenecks. He borrowed money from his family when he ran into difficulties. He used to spend large amounts of his company’s funds on personal expenses such as clothing, fine dining and liquor for his clients which irked his investors. His business tactics were very aggressive; he used advertisements in newspapers, product placements and even bribery and manipulation to retain his status as the sole producer and distributor of revolvers in the US.
He set up his own manufacturing company by the name of “Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company” and set up armories in Hartford and London. He later received an extension on his patent and opted to keep the price of his revolvers low in order to make them affordable and create demand. The success of his manufacturing empire can be attributed to a number of factors; his business and marketing acumen, the outbreak of the Mexican war and the American civil war and his political alliances with various government personnel and agencies. He had no scruples in supplying arms to both sides in a war and was even criticized for his support of the Southern states during the Civil War. Samuel Colt died at the age of 48 in 1862,leaving behind him a huge empire worth $15 million at the time of his death (estimated to be upwards of $350 million by today’s standards) which he entailed to his wife and son.