The Great Equalizer: Samuel Colt

In 1851, Prince Albert, the spouse of Queen Victoria, organized the Great Exhibition in London, which was supposed to show the world the technical achievements of the British Empire. Millions of visitors wandered around the fantastic crystal palace, which was erected in Hyde Park specifically for this event. In the American section, crowds of onlookers were surrounded by a noisy, temperamental gentleman who was extolling a revolutionary novelty - a pistol from which you could shoot more than once or twice in a row, but as many as six! But the audience was much more struck by this. In those days when any product of precision mechanics was hand-made, and all the parts were individually adjusted, assembling a workable gun right in front of the public from parts randomly removed from several boxes standing on the table (the parts in each were absolutely interchangeable due to very accurate machining on metal cutting machines ), looked like a real miracle. The name of an American entertaining the public is now known to almost everyone. It was Samuel Colt.

Colt Patterson 1836. Five-shot .36 caliber capsule revolver

Pyrotechnician and Mariner

Samuel Colt was born in 1814 in Hartford, Connecticut. When Sam was two years old, his mother died, and a couple of years later his father married again. At the age of ten, the boy began to look for jobs on a farm nearby. Soon he was sent to a private school in Amherst (Massachusetts), where he showed a keen interest in chemistry. However, he did not stay there for two years either - his training ended when one of the pyrotechnic experiments with which he amazed classmates suddenly got out of control. At age 15, Sam began work at a weaving mill in Weir, Massachusetts, where his father served as a sales agent. But he still had a love of pyrotechnics and on the eve of Independence Day on July 4, 1829, he posted hand-written leaflets around the district announcing that "Sam Colt will show how to throw a raft floating in a city pond into the sky with an explosion." If you believe the legend, the young designer was a little mistaken in his calculations and all the spectators were doused with water. The angry crowd almost threw the experimenter into the pond, but the young mechanic Elisha Ruth saved him from reprisal. The pyrotechnic experiment impressed him. Two decades later, he will play an important role in the full adventure of Colt's life.

The Baron of Arms Contrary to popular belief, Samuel Colt was not the inventor of the revolver. But he turned out to be a brilliant entrepreneur who was able to assess the potential of this invention and use all the achievements of technological progress to build his industrial empire.

The following year, Colt persuaded his father to attach him as a sailor to the Corvo cargo brig, which was traveling from Boston to Calcutta with a call to London. It was in this journey that he was captured by a new idea, born as a result of observations of ratchet on an anchor spire, or, according to another version, behind a rattle of a helm. The version also seems quite likely that Colt saw in England one of the pistols with a rotary breech - a model with a flintlock, which was developed in 1813 by the Boston gunsmith Elisha Collier (40, 000 such pistols were sent to India to arm the British troops). To occupy himself during a four-month voyage, 16-year-old Sam carved a rough model of a revolver of his own design from wood. The idea of ​​a revolver did not leave him until the end of his life, and the layout became a relic in the history of firearms.

The 1847 Walker Colt and its enhanced version of the 1948 Colt Dragon. Six-shot .44 caliber capsule revolver


After returning from swimming, Colt decided to translate the idea into metal. He was a good draftsman, but had no desire to master the profession of a locksmith. Instead, he persuaded his father to give him money and hired a professional locksmith. The result was minimal: both samples made by the gunsmith were no good. One did not shoot at all, and the second exploded during the tests.

Eh, one, one more time ...

At the beginning of the 18th century, using firearms after each shot required a very troublesome reloading process, which turned into a deadly weakness on the battlefield. Weapon designers carried out experiments with multi-barrel weapons from the very first days of the use of gunpowder in military affairs, but such weapons were heavy and uncomfortable. In the Collier’s revolver of 1813, it was not the trunks that rotated, but only the breech (it had to be turned manually before each shot), but by its design the gunpowder in each chamber was ignited by a flintlock, carving a spark with a flint of iron.

The weapon revolution began in 1799 when the British chemist Edward Howard discovered that fulminate mercury (“mercury fulminate”) is an excellent initiating explosive, and in 1805 Scottish priest Alexander John Forsyth first used explosive mercury beads to ignite gunpowder when hit the trigger. In 1814, mercury fulminate began to be placed in steel, and in 1818 - in copper caps, caps, which were worn on the fire tubes carrying fire to gunpowder. The new system quickly replaced older flint designs.

The Colt capsule revolver used a drum with five or six powder chambers. A powder charge and a bullet were put into each of them, and capsules were inserted into the firing holes of each chamber. Camora reloaded from the front, for which a small ramrod was used, which was traditionally mounted directly on the gun under the barrel. What was new was that when cocking the trigger, a special dog turned the drum until the charging chamber completely coincided with the barrel, and in this position the drum was fixed. When the shooter pressed the trigger, under the action of the spring, the trigger hit the capsule, which ignited the powder charge, the gases from which pushed the bullet. At the next cocking, a new charging chamber was brought to the barrel, and the revolver was ready for the next shot. Five (or six) bullets could be fired in seconds, and this provided a significant advantage in a collision with several opponents.

He didn’t want to return to seafaring life, and Colt began selling laughing gas, which he learned to receive from a chemist in Weir. For three years he toured the United States and Canada under the name "Dr. Coult from New York, London and Calcutta, " rolling a handcart in front of him and showing the audience the effect of nitrous oxide. Earnings reached $ 10 per day, which was not bad for the 1830s. However, Colt did not forget about his idea. With the money he earned, he hired a gunsmith from Baltimore, John Pearson, who brought the design of the revolver to mind.

1851 Colt Navy Six-shot .36 caliber capsule revolver

In 1835, Samuel, taking a thousand dollars from his father, went to Europe and patented a revolver in England and France, and in 1836 received an American patent number 138, after which he persuaded his cousin Dudley Selden and several other investors from New York to invest $ 200 000 to its Patent Arms Manufacturing Company in Patterson, NJ, which soon began producing five-shot .36 single-action Patterson caliber revolvers (the trigger had to be pulled with the thumb). Colt himself engaged in sales and advertising of his weapons. Realizing that patronage from the government would be the key to success, he hurried to Washington to make contacts at the federal level. He was sure that hospitable parties and bribes to the right people would quickly open the eyes of the authorities to the merits of his invention. Cousin Dudley, looking at the bills for alcohol, grumbled: "I doubt that the old Madeira will improve the characteristics of the new weapon."

1860 Colt Army Six-shot .44 caliber capsule revolver


However, the military turned out to be hopelessly conservative. In addition, tests showed that the invention was still very “crude”: sensitive capsules created the danger of an accidental shot (or even shots) simply with a strong blow to the gun. Powder deposit or fragments of capsules could lead to jamming of the delicate mechanism. The whole drum could also be torn if the shooter puts too much gunpowder into it.

Good wine and bribes were not enough to attract state dollars. In 1837, Colt managed to sell a hundred revolving rifles for arming the federal forces in operations against the Indian Seminole tribe in Florida, and three years later he managed to sell the army another hundred for $ 50 apiece, but this was too little to keep the company afloat, and in 1842 the company went bankrupt.

1861 Colt Navy Six-shot .36 caliber capsule revolver

Bankrupt again

Failure and loss of money did not discourage Colt. He moved to New York and returned to his childhood amusements - underwater mines controlled from the shore by electricity. Such mines lying at the bottom of a canal or strait could sink enemy ships. “This is a defense against all the fleets of Europe, ” he praised his invention, “which will not require risking the lives of our compatriots.” An interested US Navy allocated $ 6, 000 for further research, and Colt conducted several spectacular tests, sinking a couple of schooners in front of the commission. But no further funding came. More successful was another development of Colt - waterproof cartridges: in 1845, the army purchased them for $ 50, 000.

1873 Colt Peacemaker Six-shot revolver with a .45 caliber unitary cartridge

Colt, who organized his workshop at New York University, met Samuel Morse, whose laboratory was in the neighborhood. Inventors willingly exchanged their ideas. Colt suggested that Morse establish a telegraph connection between Washington and Baltimore by laying a 40-mile cable. In 1846, the New York and Offing Magnetic Telegraph Association was established, which was to connect Manhattan with submarine cables to Long Island and New Jersey. But due to contradictions between investors and Colt's carelessness, the company soon went bankrupt. At 32, Sam was again poor.


However, all this time, Colt’s weapons gradually gained their way into life. Shortly before the first bankruptcy, the inventor sold a small batch of Patterson revolvers to a group of Texas rangers - militias defending the Republic of Texas from Mexicans and Indians. Gangs of resourceful Indians adapted to break through the barrage, rushing at the soldiers, while they reloaded their muskets. Colt's invention allowed the shooters to neutralize Native American tactics. Samuel Walker, the ranger captain, sent Colt a thank you note praising his pistols. “If they are improved a little more, ” he wrote, “then they will become the most perfect weapon in the world.” According to Walker, a unit of 15 soldiers armed with revolvers dealt with a gang of 80 Comanches.

Colt Pocket Model 1849 1. Trunk. 2. The drum. 3. The trigger. 4. The frame. 5. The trigger. 6. The spring. 7. The handle. 8. Lining on the handle. 9. The plunger of the charging lever. 10. Charging lever. 11. The trigger guard.

In 1846, the US war with Mexico became inevitable, and Walker decided to arm his dragoons with new revolvers. Discussing his plans with Colt, he proposed several important improvements. Colt simplified the mechanism, facilitated reloading, and increased the caliber of the model named after the Walker customer from .36 to .44. With a nine-inch (225 mm) barrel, this massive six-shot revolver weighed almost 2 kg, that is two and a half times more than the modern one. Colt received an order for 1000 revolvers at a price of $ 25 apiece. If the war continued, the order was to be repeated. Colt returned to the arms business.

The genius of marketing

Colt was one of the first entrepreneurs to develop an arsenal of all the funds that can be used to promote goods on the market and to expand sales markets. The revolver was a new product, almost unknown to the general public, so Colt earnestly collected positive reviews from the lips of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defense, fighters who fought on the western borders, and pioneers who mastered new territories. He did not have the patience to wait in the press for laudatory reviews of his product - therefore, he wrote such reviews.

When benevolent materials appeared in the press, he ordered his agents: "Send me a hundred copies, and give the editor a revolver." Engravers constantly worked at his factory, procuring gift revolvers for delivery to government officials, state governors, and anyone else, as long as it relates to lucrative contracts. He was one of the first to master what later turned into a standard methodology of market behavior - advertising campaigns, discount sales, persistent promotion of the “new” nomenclature and even street stands. He was one of the first to accompany his products with a “user manual”, which was especially important for those who at first were scared of the novelty and complexity of the revolver.

Upgraded pistols were needed by Walker as soon as possible. However, although Colt remained the owner of a revolver patent, he no longer had his own production base. He agreed with Eli Whitney, the owner of a Connecticut-based musket factory, to produce a batch of weapons. Six months later, the order was completed, and Captain Walker, constantly rushing Colt, received a pair of revolvers named after him four days before his death in battle.


Mexico’s reputation for this weapon, as well as good reviews from owners in Florida and Texas, outweighed concerns over novelty and insecurity. The government ordered another thousand copies, and in 1847, Colt, borrowed money from a relative, a banker, hired workers and opened his own small production facility in Hartford, capable of producing up to 5, 000 pistols a year.

In 1849, Colt made the most successful staffing decision in his life. He lured from another company Elisha Ruth, who was considered the most experienced engineer in New England. By the end of the year, the plant built under the leadership of Ruth already gave out a hundred pistols a week.

When Colt went to an exhibition in London in 1851, he was an international celebrity. 300 people worked at his Hartford plant, and they produced approximately 20, 000 pistols a year. The extremely popular .31 caliber pocket pistol was added to the model line, the demand for which was so great that the plant could barely cope with production. Colt traveled to European capitals in search of new buyers for his pistols. In 1852, he founded a factory in London, becoming the first American entrepreneur to open a branch of his production overseas.

1911 Colt M1911 Semi-automatic .45 caliber pistol

Having become the owner of the largest private arms production in the world, Colt managed to extend the validity of some key patents and retained a monopoly in this area, and the events unfolding in the next decade were simply the embodiment of the dream of any gunsmith. The US victory over Mexico paved the way for the southwest. In those wild places, complete anarchy reigned, generating a huge demand for revolvers. The gold rush in California and Australia has added new crowds of buyers. Sales also grew thanks to the Crimean War of 1853-1856.


During a visit to the British World's Fair, Colt received an invitation to speak to members of the famous English Institute of Civil Engineers. He took this opportunity to further promote his pistols to the European market, but in addition, he spoke in his speech about what later became known as the "American production system." Not Colt invented this system, but he was one of the first to put it into practice.

1955 Colt Python Revolver with a dual-action trigger .357 Magnum

Traditionally, firearms were made by skilled artisans. Weapons were produced in small batches, all details were made manually, and then customized "in place". State factories have established a single line of models and templates that are mandatory for manufacturers. Arsenals demanded that their contractors use the same technological methods, so that as a result the Connecticut River Valley became the vanguard of the technological revolution, as is now Silicon Valley in California.

Colt understood how important standardization and interchangeability were for government customers. In addition, an automated technological process paved the way for cost reduction (the price of $ 50 fell to $ 19 by 1859 due to large volumes of production).

Хотя в то время узкая специализация была еще не слишком типична, на заводе Кольта на каждом из станков рабочий выполнял какую-нибудь одну операцию — например, высверливал ствол или делал нарезку. Вся работа по изготовлению пистолета была разбита на 450 отдельных операций. Грандиозный завод в Хартфорде стал достопримечательностью, туда возили туристов, показывая им «джунгли, населенные странными железными чудищами», которые приводили в движение пять паровых машин. «Хрупкие девушки с изящными ручками делают здесь работу, которую в других оружейных мастерских выполняют здоровенные прокопченные кузнецы», — писал журналист, посетивший в 1852 году лондонский завод Кольта.

Colt Buntline Special 1. Ствол. 2. Барабан. 3. Курок. 4. Рамка. 5. Спусковой крючок. 6. Пружина. 7. Рукоять. 8, 9. Накладки на рукоять. 10. Спусковая скоба. 11. Ударник. 12. Эжектор. 13. Зарядное окно.


Новая система производства, организованная на заводе Кольта, быстро распространилась и вышла за рамки оружейной промышленности. Система базировалась на почти военной дисциплине: на рабочем месте полагалось быть в 7.00, когда запускали паровые машины, и если работник опаздывал, его уже не допускали в цех. От персонала категорически требовалась абсолютная трезвость. Правилами стали узкая специализация и иерархическая система управления.

Ошибка Сэмюэля Кольта

Несмотря на свой талант, Кольт упустил один из самых критических моментов в развитии стрелкового оружия — переход на унитарный патрон. До 1850-х годов огнестрельное оружие было капсюльным. Оружие заряжали через дуло, засыпая в казенную часть порох, а потом закатывая пулю. Пистолет Кольта представлял собой ту же традиционную конструкцию, но только в варианте с несколькими пороховыми каморами.

В 1855 году оружейник Роллин Уайт разработал револьвер, у которого пороховая камора представляла собой не замкнутую полость с запальным отверстием, а сквозную дыру, просверленную в барабане. Стрелок вставлял в это отверстие с задней стороны медный патрон (французский патент Жака Флобера 1846 года), состоящий из гильзы с пороховым зарядом, пули и капсюля. Металлическое донышко патрона служило задней стенкой пороховой каморы. Перезарядка становилась намного быстрее, чем в капсюльных револьверах. Если верить легенде, Уайт сначала предложил свою идею Кольту, но получил от него отказ. Из-за этой промашки Кольта конструкцию Уайта купили Хорас Смит и Дэниел Вессон, выпустившие в 1857 году револьвер Smith&Wesson Model 1 — первый револьвер с металлическим унитарным патроном. Когда в 1869 году срок патента Уайта истек, на эту систему перешли все производители пистолетов, и капсюльные револьверы канули в Лету.

Вскоре британское правительство, несмотря на сопротивление цехов оружейников, позаимствовало американскую систему для нового оружейного завода в Энфилде. Кольт чувствовал, что новые принципы изменят сам образ жизни рабочего класса, и стремился как-то избежать таких явлений, как нищета и деградация, которую принесла промышленная революция в некоторые регионы Европы. Его решением проблемы стал Кольтсвилль — компактный район Хартфорда, где помимо завода располагались жилые кварталы для рабочих, парки и даже клуб. Организовывались бейсбольные команды и хоровые кружки, а зарплаты по тем временам выплачивались более чем щедрые.


Кольт ни дня не прослужил в американской армии, но за многолетнюю помощь Демократической партии и поддержку губернатора штата Коннектикут Томаса Сеймура ему в 1850-х было присвоено звание полковника. В 1856 году Кольт женился на Элизабет Ярвис, дочери священника. Молодые построили в Хартфорде большой дом и вписались в городское высшее общество. У них родилось четверо детей, но лишь один сын дожил до зрелых лет. Кольт остро переживал смерть детей, у него самого начались серьезные проблемы со здоровьем, и 10 января 1862 года, в возрасте 47 лет, он умер, оставив после себя капитал в $15 млн и одно из самых крупных и передовых предприятий в стране. Похороны походили на завершающий акт грандиозной оперы: Кольта провожал весь город во главе с мэром Демингом и губернатором штата Сеймуром, а в почетном карауле стоял 12-й пехотный полк.

Сегодня очевидно, что главное наследие Кольта — это не конструкция револьвера, а новаторский подход к проблемам массового производства и сбыта. Технологические решения, которые Кольт внедрил в производство оружия, позднее были использованы при выпуске печатных машинок, швейных машин, велосипедов. Сейчас практически все производится в полном соответствии с теми принципами, которые стали делом жизни Сэмюэла Кольта, первого из великих оружейников Америки.

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The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 12, December 2008).


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