February 25th, 1836 – The Colt Revolver

Today-In-History

Samuel Colt received a British patent on his improved design for a revolver in 1835, and two U.S. patents in 1836, one on February 25th (later numbered U.S. Patent 9430X) and another on August 29th (U.S. Patent 1,304). That same year, he founded his first corporation for its manufacture, the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company of Paterson, New Jersey, Colt’s Patent. The first firearm manufactured at the new Paterson plant, however, was the Colt First Model Ring Lever rifle beginning in 1837. This was followed shortly thereafter in late 1837 by the introduction of the Colt Paterson. 

peacemaker

This corporation suffered quality problems in production. Making firearms with interchangeable parts was still rather new (it had reached commercial viability only about a decade before), and it was not yet easy to replicate across different factories. Interchangeability was not complete in the Paterson works, and traditional gunsmithing techniques did not fill the gap entirely there. The Colt Paterson revolver found patchy success and failure; some worked well, while others had problems. The United States Marine Corps and United States Army reported quality problems with these earliest Colt revolvers. Production had ended at the New Jersey corporation by 1842.

Colt made another attempt at revolver production in 1846 and submitted a prototype to the US government. During the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), this prototype was seen by Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker who made some suggestions to Colt about making it in a larger caliber. Having no factory or machinery to produce the pistols, Samuel Colt collaborated with the Whitney armory of Whitneyville, Connecticut. This armory was run by the family of Eli Whitney. Eli Whitney Jr (born 1820), the son of the cotton-gin-developer patriarch, was the head of the family armory and a successful arms maker and innovator of the era. Colt used a combination of renting the Whitney firm’s facilities and subcontracting parts to the firm to continue his pursuit of revolver manufacture.

ColtColt’s new revolvers found favor with Texan volunteers (the progenitors of later Texas Rangers cavalry groups), and they placed an order for 1,000 revolvers that became known as the Colt Walker, ensuring Colt’s continuance in manufacturing revolvers. In 1848, Colt was able to start again with a new business of his own, and 1855, he converted it into a corporation under the name of Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut.

The 1850s were a decade of phenomenal success for the new Colt corporation. Colt was the first to widely commercialize the total use of interchangeable parts throughout a product. It was a leader in assembly line practice. It was a major innovator and training ground in manufacturing technology in this decade (and several after). Soon after establishing his Hartford factory, Colt set out to establish a factory in Europe and chose London, England. He organized a large display of his firearms at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Hyde Park, London and ingratiated himself by presenting cased engraved Colt revolvers to such appropriate officials as Britain’s Master General of the Ordnance. At one exhibit Colt disassembled ten guns and reassembled ten guns using different parts from different guns. As the world’s leading proponent of mass production techniques, Colt went on to deliver a lecture on the subject to the Institute of Civil Engineers in London. The membership rewarded his efforts by awarding him the Telford Gold Medal.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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