Samuel Colt (19th century engraving)Samuel Colt (July 19, 1814 – January 10, 1862) was an American inventor and industrialist. He was the founder of Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (now known as Colt's Manufacturing Company), and is widely credited with popularizing the revolver. Colt's innovative contributions to the weapons industry have been described by arms historian James E. Serven as "events which shaped the destiny of American Firearms." In 2006, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Early yearsSamuel Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Christopher Colt, a farmer who had moved his family to Hartford when he changed professions and became a businessman, and Sarah Colt née Caldwell, who died before Samuel was seven years old. Christopher Colt was remarried two years later to Olive Sargeant. The Colt family included eight siblings: five boys and three girls. Two of the sisters died in childhood and the other committed suicide later in life, but Samuel's brothers were a huge part of his professional life.
Colt was indentured to a farm in Glastonbury at age 11, where he did chores and attended school. At Glastonbury, he was introduced to the Compendium of Knowledge, a scientific encyclopedia that he preferred to read rather than doing his Bible studies. This encyclopedia contained articles on Robert Fulton and gunpowder, both of which provided motivation and ideas that would influence Colt throughout his life. While reading the Compendium, "he discovered that Robert Fulton and several other inventors had accomplished things deemed impossible—until they were done". Later, after hearing soldiers talk about the success of the double barreled rifle and the impossibility of a gun that could shoot five or six times, Colt "decided he would be an inventor and create the 'impossible' gun".
In 1829, Colt began working in his father's textile plant in Ware, Massachusetts, where he had access to tools, materials, and the factory workers' expertise. Using the ideas and technical knowledge he had acquired earlier from the encyclopedia, Samuel built a homemade galvanic cell and used it to explode a gunpowder charge in the waters of Ware Lake. In 1832, Colt's father sent him to sea to learn the seaman's trade. Colt would later say that the concept of the revolver was inspired by his observations of the ship's wheel during his first voyage. He discovered that "regardless of which way the wheel was spun, each spoke always came in direct line with a clutch that could be set to hold it... the revolver was conceived!" On this voyage, Colt made a wooden model of a revolver.
When Colt returned to the United States in 1832, he went back to work for his father, who financed the production of two pistols. The guns turned out to be of poor quality because Christopher Colt believed the idea to be folly and would hire only inexpensive mechanics. One of the guns burst upon firing, and the other would not fire at all. Later, after learning about nitrous oxide (laughing gas) from the factory chemist, Colt took a portable lab on the road and earned a living performing laughing gas demonstrations across the United States and Canada. It was during this time that he made arrangements to begin building guns using proper gunsmiths from Baltimore, Maryland. In 1832, at the age of 18, Colt applied for a patent on his revolver and declared that he would "be back soon with a model".[