Beautiful rare unissued certificate from the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company
dated 18__. This historic document has an ornate border around it with the company's name on top center.
Colt's Manufacturing Company (CMC, formerly Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company) is a United States firearms manufacturer, whose first predecessor corporation was founded in 1836 by Samuel Colt. Colt is best known for the engineering, production, and marketing of firearms over the later half of the 19th and the 20th century. Colt's earliest designs played a major role in the popularization of the revolver and the shift away from earlier single-shot pistols. While Sam Colt did not invent the revolver concept, his designs resulted in the first very successful ones.
The most famous Colt products include the Walker Colt, Single Action Army or Peacemaker, and the Colt Python. John Browning worked for Colt for a time, and came up with a design for a semiautomatic pistol, which debuted as the Colt M1900 pistol and eventually evolved into the Colt M1911 pistol. Though they did not develop it, for a long time Colt was primarily responsible for all AR-15 and M16 rifle production, as well as many derivatives of those firearms. The most successful and famous of these are numerous M16 carbines, including the Colt Commando family, and the M4 carbine.
In 2002, Colt Defense was split off from Colt's Manufacturing Company. Colt Manufacturing Company now serves the civilian market, while Colt Defense serves the law enforcement, military, and private security markets worldwide.
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 25 (later numbered U.S. Patent 9430X) and another on August 29 (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. 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.
Colt'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 Walker Colt, ensuring Colt's continuance in manufacturing revolvers. In 1848, Colt was able to start again with a new corporation of his own. He founded the Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut.
Colt purchased a large tract of land beside the Connecticut River, where he built his first factory in 1848, a larger factory called the Colt Armory in 1855, a manor that he called Armsmear in 1856, and employee tenemant housing. He established a ten-hour day for employees, installed washing stations in the factory, mandated a one-hour lunch break, and built the Charter Oak Hall, a club where employees could enjoy games, newspapers, and discussion rooms. Colt ran his plant with a military-like discipline, he would fire workers for tardiness, sub-par work or even suggesting improvements to his designs.
In an attempt to attract skilled German workers to his plant, Colt built a village near the factory away from the tenemants which he named Coltsville and modeled the homes after a village in Pottsdam. In an effort to stem the flooding from the river he planted German osiers, a type of willow tree in a 2-mile long dike. He subsequently built a factory to manufacture wicker furniture made from these trees.
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. he membership rewarded his efforts by awarding him the Telford Gold Medal.
Colt's presence in the British market caused years of acrimony and lawsuits among British arms makers, who doubted the validity of Colt's British patent and the desirability of the American system of manufacturing. It took many more years and a UK government commission before the point became universally accepted that such manufacture was possible and economical. Colt opened his London plant on the Thames River and began production on January 1, 1853. Many English people saw Colt’s advanced steampowered machinery as proof of America’s growing position as a leader in modern industrial production. n a tour of the factory, Charles Dickens was so impressed with the facilities that he recorded his favorable comments of Colt's revolvers in an 1852 edition of Household Words. Most significant, the Colt factory’s machines mass-produced interchangeable parts that could be easily and cheaply put together on assembly lines using standardized patterns and gauges by unskilled labor as opposed to England's top gunmakers.
In 1854 the British Admiralty ordered 4,000 Navy Model Colt revolvers. In 1855 the British Army placed an order for 5,000 of these revolvers for army issue. Despite a following order later in the year for an additional 9,000 revolvers, Colt failed to convince the British to adopt his revolver as the issue sidearm for the army. Colt began to realize that British sales were failing to meet his expectations. Unable to justify the London factory’s expenses, Colt closed the London factory in 1856. Over the next few months his workmen crated and shipped the machinery and unassembled firearms back to America.
Though the U.S. was not directly involved in the Crimean War (1854–1856), Colt's weapons were used by both sides. In 1855 Colt unveiled new state-of-the-art armories in the Hartford and London factories stocked with the latest machine tools (some of which were of Colt's devising), many built by Francis A. Pratt and Amos Whitney, who would found the original Pratt & Whitney toolbuilding firm a few years later. For example, the Lincoln miller debuted to industry at these armories.
Colt had set up libraries and educational programs within the plants for his employees. Colt's armories in Hartford were seminal training grounds for several generations of toolmakers and other machinists, who had great influence in other manufacturing efforts of the next half century. Prominent examples included F. Pratt and A. Whitney (as mentioned above); Henry Leland (who would end up at Cadillac and Lincoln); Edward Bullard Sr of the Bullard firm; and, through Pratt & Whitney, Worcester R. Warner and Ambrose Swasey (of Warner & Swasey).
In 1860 Colt produced a new revolver model for the United States Army.
The American Civil War was a boon to firearms manufacturers such as Colt's, and the company thrived during the conflict. Sam Colt had carefully developed contacts within the ordnance department signing the very first government contract for 25,000 rifles. Colt's Factory was described as "an industrial palace topped by a blue dome" and powered by a 250-horsepower steam engine. During the American Civil War Colt had 1,500 employees who produced 150,000 muskets and pistols a year. In 1861 and 1863 the company sold 107,000 of the Colt Army Model 1860, alone, with production reaching 200,500 by the end of the war in 1865. In 1855 an employee of Colt's, Rollin White, came up with the idea of having the revolver cylinder bored through to accept metallic cartridges. He took this idea to Colt who flatly rejected it and ended up firing White within a few years. Colt historian RL Wilson has described this as the major blunder of Sam Colt's professional life.
The Civil War made a huge fortune for the company, allowing Sam Colt to become America's first manufacturing tycoon, but he did not live to see the end of it. He died of rheumatic fever on January 10, 1862, and his close friend and firearms engineer, Elisha K. Root, took over as Colt's company president. On February 4, 1864 a fire destroyed most of the factory including arms, machinery, plans, and factory records. On September1, 1865 Root died leaving the company in the hands of Samuel Colt's brother-in-law, Richard Jarvis. The company's Vice-president was William B. Franklin, who recently left the Army at the end of the Civil War. With the Civil War over and no new military contracts Colt's Manufacturing had to lay off over 800 employees.
The company found itself in a precarious situation, the original revolver patents had expired and other companies could produce copies of his designs. Additionally, metallic cartridge revolvers had been gaining in popularity, but Colt could not produce any because of the Rollin White patent held by rival, Smith & Wesson. Likewise, Colt had been so protective of its own patents that other companies were unable to make revolvers similar to their design. As the Rollin White patent was nearing expiration, Colt moved toward developing a metallic cartridge revolver.
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